The A14 in East Anglia is be­ing re­vamped, so what bet­ter ex­cuse to look back on its for­mer iden­tity as the A604?

Classic Car Weekly (UK) - - Buying & Selling - PAUL LARKINS

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.

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