A55 Llandegai to Holyhead Trunk Road
"I think it’s very successful because we delivered the scheme, six months early. But when you look at the context on which that delivery was achieved, we had the foot and mouth problem, we had two of the wettest winters on record, and then we had the fuel crisis also making things difficult, and yet we were able to produce and deliver the project six months ahead of time and I think that was a major achievement by the concessionaire."
Ray Hooper, Head of the New Roads Unit at the Welsh Assembly
The opening of the £101 million A55 Llandegai to Holyhead trunk road in 2001 marked the completion of the final link in the improvement of the whole route from Chester to Holyhead. This is a key international highway linking Dublin and Ireland more generally with Wales and England and the major markets of Europe.
The road was designed financed and built by UK Highways A55, a consortium of Carillion Laing and Hyder and is the first trunk road built in Wales under the Private Finance Initiative and the contract will run until 2028.
The PPP Forum interviewed Ray Hooper, head of the New Roads Unit at the Welsh Assembly.
"The original road which crosses the Anglesey was built by Telford in the 1820s and included a section crossing the Menai Bridge. We had major problems with traffic safety on that road and there was a very high accident rate across the island itself. Because it feeds the port of Holyhead we had a real problem with convoys of lorries and cars disembarking from ferries - with the queues along the single track road it was very difficult for people to overtake and this caused a lot of frustration.
So it built up an unenviable reputation as a very dangerous piece of road, coupled with the fact it actually travelled through about six villages on its route. In the very early 1990s we undertook a series of public consultation exercises, putting to them a number of routes".
The original procurement of the whole route from Chester to Holyhead envisaged four separate schemes using traditionally let contracts. UK Highways won the concession for 30 years in 1998 and began to investigate the advantages of combining the four schemes to build the roads simultaneously over two years. Political will and the Private Finance Initiative made this idea possible. The 22 mile dual carriageway final stage from Llandegai to Holyhead took 27 months to build, including the design stage.
The environmental aspects were another part of the project. New habitats had to be created for water voles badgers otters and great crested newts and extensive contaminated ground dealt with. A new island was created for the local tern colony. In terms of local history, nearly 80 archaeologists carried out excavations at 40 sites uncovering settlements dating back to 2000-3000 BC as well as Roman sites.
"The A55 is a heritage route now because it’s the original route that Thomas Telford built in the 1820s. The project itself, the A55 Llandegai to Holyhead, consisted of the construction of a new dual carriageway across the Island of Anglesey, the maintenance of what we call the Menai Loop, which is this loop of trunk road, between two World Heritage bridges which are the Menai Suspension Bridge– Telford’s original suspension bridge – and the Britannia Bridge which was built by Robert Stephenson in 1850."
Shadow tolls are calculated based upon the number of vehicles using the route and the distance travelled. Payments are also linked to availability for road users and to the safety record of the road.
"In the past, with the sort of contracts that we would have conventionally awarded would have had a one year maintenance period, but if things started to go wrong one year and one day beyond that, there would be a limited liability, but generally speaking as long as it got through the short term period the constructors were quite happy to walk away from the problems. But that can’t happen with the PFI."
Because of the size of the project and because the road was to stretch the whole length of Anglesey, there was a huge impact on the people living there. In order to keep people informed of the plans four public exhibitions were held before work started and throughout the construction there was regular liaison and consultation with residents.
"We set up liaison groups with local communities. We were in the process of changing the way we delivered major schemes by involving communities far more and that was carried on with this project.
I suppose the main advantage of the project being a PFI was knowing that the work the contractor was doing, he would have to live with that for the next 25 or 26 years, so there was a little bit of like an insurance policy in your back pocket; you knew that he wasn’t just going to walk away from problems at the end of the construction period or maintenance period. I also think the delivery of 20 miles of major road through some very environmentally sensitive areas in a very tight timescale was a big plus for PFI."