AUTUMN 1989 A604, CAMBRIDGESHIRE
The A14 in East Anglia is being revamped, so what better excuse to look back on its former identity as the A604?
B ack in November work started on a £1.8 billion road improvement scheme for the infamous A14, home to many a frustrated motorist every morning as they commute past Cambridge and south to London, then back for more later.
Of course it hasn’t always been so; in the 1960s what was then the A604 was a 90-mile cross-country route between the A6 at Kettering and the A12 at Colchester, and the number of vehicles plying back and forth between Cambridge and Huntingdon was ridiculously light compared to today’s non-stop torrent.
But those days have most definitely gone and even by the time I joined the traffic as an occasional commuter in the 1990s the A604 could at best be described as slow and at worst as downright dangerous, with many a collision claiming lives. Indeed, it was one such accident that set a campaign going to create the A14 we know today. But now, even that road is nowhere near large enough to cope with 85,000 vehicles a day – hence the ‘A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme’, which aims to do exactly what it says on the tin.
Once the additional lanes have been built experts claim the 21mile crawl between Huntingdon and Cambridge will be as much as 20 minutes quicker. But before you reach for your rose-coloured spectacles and remember the good old days when you might be joined by a Ford Anglia and not much else, allow a one-time A604 regular in the 1960s to take up the story. Cambridge resident John Lidd can still remember those hairy days of that decade, driving between Huntingdon and Cambridge in his must-have car of the time, a Mini. ‘There was a lot less traffic than there is today, but it was still a dangerous trek,’ he recalls. ‘I lived at Hilton, about eight miles outside the city, and often had to drive into Cambridge. Some parts of the road were three or four feet higher on one side than the other.
‘ With no central barrier, a lorry crashing down could do you a lot of damage. Overtaking in the middle was also a white-knuckle ride.
‘I suppose people who use the A14 now and don’t remember how it was before will maybe think that having fewer cars and trucks was much safer, and to some extent that’s true. But modern roads have all sorts of built-in safety features we didn’t have back then.’
True enough, for I can recall a venture along this east-west corridor in the 1980s and even in that comparatively modern era noted there was no central crash barrier, so eased back on my 1984 Ford Sierra MkI’s accelerator pedal.
In fact, it turns out the Department of Transport initially resisted putting barriers in place, because at that time they were only used on motorways, and the A604 was classified as a trunk road.
How much the work will reduce queuing, only time will tell. But you’ll have plenty of time to contemplate that question in the two years of delays the work promises.