|The Baldock bypass|
The area around Baldock has been occupied for at least 5,000 years. It was the centre of an Iron Age province and an important town in Roman Britain. Prior to construction the excavation of 100 trial trenches were commissioned to identify any archaeology which would otherwise be destroyed by the new road. The remains of seven Bronze Age burial mounds were found, and part of the medieval hospital of St Mary Magdalene. On top of the Weston hills ancient stone tools were discovered. Finds from more recent times include two large World War II bomb craters and a number of unexploded bombs!
Hertfordshire Biological Records centre and other local environmental bodies and experts were heavily involved during the planning and construction stages of the bypass. Situated in the midst of ecologically unexceptional arable farmland, the banks of the bypass were seen as an opportunity to create a chalk grassland habitat of wild flowers and butterflies.
Where the road cutting is in chalk, a new habitat has been created for butterflies under threat, hoping to attract the small blue, the chalkhill blue, Brown Argus, Marbled White and Green Hairststreak by creating ledges and hollows on the slopes and sowing specially selected grass seeds.
Before work started, ground nesting birds such as skylarks were deterred by removing crops and topsoil along the route and where hedges had to be removed, it was checked that there were no birds nesting there. East of Baldock the rough open landscape has been retained and has already attracted declining farmland birds such as the corn bunting and winter finch.
Three badger tunnels have been installed at critical locations along the route of the road. The badgers have been encouraged to use these by the careful placement of food! Badger and deer-proof fencing has been erected at key areas to protect these species from traffic.
Bat boxes have been put up in the mature trees.
Prior to construction, colonies of common lizards were relocated to safe new homes.
Drinking water is extracted from the chalk beneath the Weston Hills and supplied to residents via a covered reservoir, so ditches and storage lagoons have been built to act against safeguards against pollution. In the event of a chemical spillage from a vehicle, polluted water can been stored in the lagoons for later treatment, avoiding the risk of groundwater contamination.
Many local groups - for example, ecological groups and the Ramblers' Association - were consulted during planning. Many groups and organisations visited the site, including pupils from most of the schools in Baldock.
Over 4,000 people attended the 'Celebration in the Tunnel' last December. This event raised over £15,000 for the Rotary Club of Baldock to distribute to local charities.
A £43m pound bypass, which was first proposed about 70 years ago to help cut congestion, officially opened in Hertfordshire on Thursday (16 March 2006) - eight months early!
The centre of Baldock has been very congested for many years. More than 22,000 vehicles pass through the town centre per day, but only 9 per cent actually stop in Baldock.
|Brian Hammond cuts the ribbon|
Much of the congestion in the town is caused by through traffic travelling along the A505 and then meeting traffic using the A507 and High Street, with a particular bottleneck at the mini roundabout where the two roads meet. The Baldock Bypass project aims to re-route through traffic on the A505 away from the town centre.
A bypass was first proposed approximately 70 years ago and the outline route was chosen in 1993. A public inquiry was held in 1995 and in 2002 the government granted permission to build the road. Construction started in April 2004.
With Transport Secretary Alistair Darling needed for a vote in the House of Commons, the road was officially opened by the Chairman of Hertfordshire County Council Brian Hammond and watched by many people who had been involved in the project, council workers, competition winners, local school children and the media!
Although proceedings were delayed a little when the open topped bus taking dignitaries and other guests to the Weston Hills Tunnel where the ceremony took place broke down on the way, Mr Hammond cut the ribbon to allow the first traffic along the much-longed for road.
A cavalcade of vehicles then headed south along the new dual carriageway, before doing a tour of Baldock to announce that the bypass was indeed finally open.
Before cutting the ribbon, Mr Hammond, re-iterated what a good day this was for the Hertfordshire town.
"It's a great day for Hertfordshire and most of all a great day for the people of Baldock" he said.
|The Weston Hill Tunnel|
"Those of you who are good at maths will have calculated that opening eight months early means that by the end of October there will be approaching 4.5 million less journeys through Baldock this spring and summer.
"The people of Baldock can reclaim their roads so whilst the weather outside maybe indifferent, if not damp and cold, here in Baldock it will be a lovely day, with much less pollution, much less congestion and many, many less heavy vehicles."
Councillor Stuart Pile, who looks after transport at Hertfordshire County Council was also very pleased at the result.
"If you come through Baldock as of lunchtime today, you'll now be able to go along the bypass and instead of about an hour delay, you'll now be able to do it in five minutes" he said.
Meanwhile Project Manager Barry Anderson explained how good weather early on helped them to finish ahead of time.
"We had an awful lot of chalk, a million cubic metres to move, we had seven structures to build and most importantly we had a tunnel to construct through the Weston Hills so it could have been difficult" he revealed.
"But we had a very good start in the spring of 2004 with some good weather which enabled the contractor Norwest Holst to move a vast amount of that chalk during that first summer season and that led the way to being able to construct the tunnel over the winter season and into the following year.
"And that was the key to the whole of the project. Everything else fell into place with that."
Local people of course are very pleased with the new road.
|Baldock bypass construction: pic A. Leader|
One local mother, Jane Mance, a resident of Baldock for 18 years said that she was "delighted" as the town is more often than not, very congested.
"It's often congested, generally at the end of the day, and especially from Friday lunchtime onwards and over the weekend" she said.
"I sometimes travel from Stevenage to Cambridge and the thought of going through Baldock High Street is always the worst thing, so to be able to miss all that will be great!"
The construction has involved the movement of over one million cubic metres of earth - mainly chalk. Some of this has been used to form the embankments for the new road, some for landscape areas, some for covering the cut and cover tunnel and the rest for the environmental mounding which will provide soundproofing for those living at the Clothall Housing estate.
The Weston Hills tunnel has been constructed using a 'cut and cover' technique. This involved excavating a section of the hill, and then constructing two reinforced concrete arches.
The arches were then filled over with earth to give the hill the same natural contours as the surrounding hillside. This has ensured that views across the Weston Hills are retained.
The new bypass also includes three road bridges and three footpath/bridleway bridges. The Weston Hills footbridge is a reinforced concrete structure with an arch supporting a shallow deck which means there is no change in the level for walkers crossing the bridge.
|Baldock bypass construction: pic A. Leader|
The aim of the 6.3 km bypass is to re-route as much of the through traffic on the A505 as possible away from Baldock town centre. Traffic models have been used to predict what will happen to traffic flows in the town after the bypass is built.
It is predicted that traffic on the major routes in the town will be reduced by between 48 per cent and 69 per cent and it is also estimated that in excess of 25,000 vehicles will use the bypass every day by 2020.
So if you've ever been stuck on the A505 or the like, prepare to rejoice. Because while the views over the Hertfordshire countryside were very nice as you spent a good half an hour waiting to get through the down, your commute is likely to be very much shorter.
Some works will continue, particularly improvements to the interchange at Junction 9 of the A1(M).
As with all projects, traffic will be monitored after the bypass is open to make sure it is flowing smoothly. In addition there will be improvement works in the area, especially in Baldock town centre and the two local authorities, Hertfordshire County Council and North Herts District Council, are working together on this.