How can a more integrated transport model solve the congestion problems in West Sussex?

The transport secretary’s decision to drop a controversial £280 million plan to improve the A27 Chichester Bypass offers a great opportunity to look at alternative solutions for tackling congestion and regenerating areas. One such option would be to invest in an integrated transport strategy that provides better connectivity and brings long term benefits to the wider area.

Clearly there needs to be a solution, which includes both road and rail and improved interchanges, that benefit both commuters and local communities.

The South Coast population is ever growing, and pressure on the road and rail networks is reaching boiling point; rail travel alone has increased by over 40% from 2005 - 2016 along the Sussex West Coast Route, Brighton to Chichester section. With the Local Government’s Air Quality targets simultaneously increasing, this situation simply cannot continue without some form of intervention.

The A27 bypass – why was it dropped?

The A27 Chichester Bypass had strong local opposition from councils and campaigners who suggested that local users would not benefit, as the design would prioritise through-traffic over local traffic and offer minimal local access along the road. Not only this, but the Expressway would encourage more end-to-end journeys on the A27 which would mean increased pollution, noise and impact on climate change. 

So, what other methods can be used to reduce congestion? 

Demand management on the roads 

On the roads, one solution would be to focus on demand management which:

  • offers a cost-effective alternative to increasing capacity;
  • delivers better environmental outcomes; and
  • improves quality of life for those who live in these congested areas.

From road pricing strategies, to incentivising commuters not to travel on affected roads during peak times, there are alternative approaches that can have the desired outcomes. Minder Hinder is one approach which could be implemented in the UK. Used in the Netherlands, Minder Hinder controls congestion during road networks through seven stages including effective traffic management and working with local authorities to ensure regional cooperation. 

Communal facilities

Communal public office facilities that avoid problem routes are another possible solution. This would allow the choice of working remotely in a professional environment and provide a sustainable solution to premium city office space for SME’s, and unlike simply working from home, could stimulate networking and improve local business relationships. 

Rail – upgrading and linking 

Additionally, the congestion and poor user experience along the A27/A259 corridor could also be improved by upgrading the existing rail infrastructure. This would enable more people to travel in a more comfortable, convenient and environmentally friendly way to their desired destination. This can be achieved by line-speed improvements, platform lengthening and re-signalling to improve capacity, amongst others. 

Another feasible solution is the provision of a West Chord at Arundel Junction, linking the Arun Valley Line with the West Coast-way Line in the Worthing and Brighton direction, allowing Worthing trains to also use the Arun Valley. This would:

  • provide greater access to Mid Sussex from the South Coast;
  • greatly increase capacity;
  • go a long way towards improving current dissatisfaction levels among passengers on the overcrowded Brighton Main Line; and
  • provide a diversionary route for when engineering works take place on the Brighton Mainline.

Housing, retail and other community facilities could then be built up around new stations on the Arun Valley line between Ford, Arundel, Horsham and Three Bridges, making this a strategic future proofed solution. Additionally, City Park and Ride systems and improved interchange between walking, cycling, bus and rail can be built around new stations. This will help to encourage people out of their cars and ease congestion. Couple this with demand management on the key problem areas on the roads to address traffic issues around Chichester, for example, and this starts to become an attractive approach. Tools such as Arcadis’ Mobility Oriented Development, helps shift the emphases from just travel, to providing communities with a full range of mobility options.

What does this mean for businesses in the affected area?

The success of Gatwick Airport has compounded the traffic issues in West Sussex. Gatwick currently welcomes 44 million passengers per year and a massive 66% of their customers still use the road networks - this means that over 29 million people are using potentially problematic road routes to get to Gatwick airport each year. And with plans for future growth and efficiency, this travel problem is only going to get worse for customers and additional employees.

The infrastructure and performance of the rail network from central London to Gatwick is excellent, and there is planned work to increase the rail station capacity and access to the platforms in the current Network Rail plan. The journey takes just 30 minutes and there are plans for trains to depart every three minutes by 2018. However, the reason behind the high level of road usage is that the connection from the South Coast of England is not as straightforward. By creating rail capacity from West Sussex, Gatwick airport could significantly benefit in terms of the passenger journey experience.

The current situation cannot continue unchallenged. Clearly there needs to be a solution, which includes both road and rail and improved interchanges, that benefit both commuters and local communities. We can learn lessons from our European neighbours, such as the Netherlands, who have been experimenting with incentivising road users for years, or use examples from the UK such as Kings Cross station as a model for effective transport interchange and regeneration. Whatever the eventual outcomes, discussions need to take place now on what this integrated transport strategy looks like, and how it can move more people, in a more reliable, sustainable and cost efficient manner in West Sussex.

Jason Grocott

Technical Director, Rail Ask me a question
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