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Changes to bottle-neck Air Balloon roundabout could lead to "rat runs"

By Gloucestershire Echo  |  Posted: December 17, 2012

  • Air Balloon roundabout

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IT is renowned as one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in the UK.

So eyebrows were raised this month when proposals were tabled to make drastic changes to the Air Balloon roundabout near Cheltenham.

The Highways Agency has come up with a new idea which it believes will not only keep vehicles moving but will cut down on pollution.

But fears have been raised by surrounding villages that the changes being suggested could turn their streets into rat runs.

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In this week's Five Minute Feature – Joe Lane looks at the far-reaching impact such changes could have.

"MAKING these changes to the Air Balloon roundabout will just shift a problem the Highways Agency has pussyfooted around for years".

Those of the sentiments of people who live near the problematic junction, which is a notorious "pinch-point" for traffic and has also been the site of many accidents.

The Highways Agency wants to introduce a no right turn rule for vehicles travelling down the hill on the A417 from Cirencester, which it claims could ease traffic flow and improve poor air quality caused by stagnant exhaust fumes.

It would, however, mean those travelling towards Cheltenham along the route would either have to continue all the way down the A417 until turning off at the Shurdington Road – or alternatively cut through village "rat runs" in the area.

Mike Cuttell, a campaigner who lives in Ullenwood, said any moves to block off the Cheltenham turning for motorists travelling along the A417 from Cirencester would do little more than push the congestion and poor air quality elsewhere.

Immediate problems, he claimed, would be a build-up of traffic along the A436 – and a corresponding deterioration in air quality there – as well as increased pressure on surrounding routes, including the Shurdington Road and village "rat-runs" through Elkstone, Coberley and Cowley.

"This plan has not been properly thought out and it must not be allowed to go ahead," said Mr Cuttell.

"It will infuriate thousands of people – from those who live in the area to the commuters who travel up the A417 from the south.

"For a start we would get more traffic build up on the A436, which in turn would make it much harder for people pulling out from Leckhampton Hill.

"And it takes little imagination to realise such a scheme would put much more pressure on roads such as the A435 and the Shurdington Road.

"Meanwhile, some motorists travelling towards Cheltenham will choose to thunder through villages such as Elkstone, Cowley and Coberley, creating major problems in those communities."

Around 30,000 vehicles travel through the roundabout each day, despite its limited capacity.

It is part of a section of road known as the "missing link" – a single stretch of carriageway on the A417/A419 route which links the M4 at Swindon to the M5 near Cheltenham.

Mr Cuttell said the problem of congestion on the route would only ever be solved by resurrecting plans to build an underground tunnel which were discarded by the Highways Agency in 2002.

"The inescapable fact is that the only sensible solution is the construction of a tunnel from Nettleton Bottom to Bentham," he added.

"What the Highways Agency need to realise is that this problem is not going to go away – and these latest plans are certainly not the answer."

His opposition to the scheme has been reinforced by community leaders in Shurdington and villages in danger of being used as cut-through routes.

Residents and councillors in the area are planning to hold a meeting early in the new year to coordinate their opposition.

A spokesman for the Highways Agency insisted the plans were not a foregone conclusion.

But he added that the proposal could be piloted next year for a period of up to 18 months.

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  • flatovercrest  |  December 19 2012, 9:08PM

    I use the junction regularly and have some serious concerns over the plans for the no right turn trial. 1. For the diverted traffic down Crickley Hill, sat nav's suggesting dangerous U turns across two lanes of traffic, around the Cold Slad turning, definitely during the trial and for a time after if it was ever to be made permanent. I have already tried it and my sat nav suggested that I turn around at 4 different points on the way down to Brockworth. (I doubt people would either see or take any notice of a no u turn sign on a wet and windy Friday night). 2. Increase of traffic using the Rat-Runs, through Elkstone etc. 3. Increase of traffic through Shurdington on A46 and Leckhampton Lane, Church Lane, Charlton Lane inbound to South side of Cheltenham. 4. Some diverted traffic would use the junction twice, actually increasing the number of vehicles/pollution. 5. Increased likelihood of lorries turning over. Large vehicles will always try to keep up the momentum in order to climb the second part of the hill up to Birdlip and over the years due to the camber on the roundabout, a number of lorries have tipped over whilst negotiating the roundabout going up the hill. I think that under the new proposals/trial the entry speed of the lorries will be higher if they do not have to give way and the would increase the chances of tipping over. 6. Increased danger when emerging from the Leckhampton Hill road, due to the increased speed of the traffic travelling from the roundabout towards Seven Springs. 7. Longer queues backing up to Ullenwood for traffic travelling from Seven Springs as there will be less breaks in traffic on the roundabout, giving less chance for traffic form Seven Springs to join the roundabout. 8. Issue for the emergency services travelling from Cirencester to South Cheltenham or Seven Springs direction. I think it is now time to spend some proper money on one of the Counties busiest junctions. Extra slip roads, moving or enlargement of the roundabout.

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  • safeandnice  |  December 18 2012, 10:43PM

    Here's the map. http://tinyurl.com/cfhyhdo You can see bottom right the A417 ermin way heading north west where it used to go down birdlip hill. Twenty years ago they swung it around to follow the b4070 ( you can still see parts of it) northeast to the A436 to take it down past crickley hill at the air balloon to the A46. Look at the traffic flows then work out where the roads really want to go

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  • Stroudette  |  December 18 2012, 9:17PM

    Enlarge the roundabout to take in the Leckhampton Hill turning and then regulate with traffic lights. Couple that with traffic lights further up the hill at the turning to Birdlip and it will vastly improve this short stretch of road. I absolutely hate both road junctions, but the roundabout itself isn't too bad except for the large amount of vehicles using it.

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  • Laplands  |  December 18 2012, 7:39PM

    I have to say i agree with Alf58. Maybe he should consult with the idiots from the highway agency. And if i remember rightly the land opposite the leckhampton turning was up for sale. so it only needs a compulsary purchase of a portion of land on barrow wake and the air baaloon over flow car park. well done Alf58 you have shown the idiots from the shires its not rocket science, just a little thought that is needed.

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  • ShireMe  |  December 18 2012, 1:55PM

    Clearly Alf58's idea is the best suggestion so far! Just make the connector further from the Air balloon and provide some escape-laybys for the uphill portion of the A417 for the seemingly daily incidences of broken down trucks. The best part about the idea is that it would be one of the cheapest solutions - if it doesnt work there will still be cash in the pot for an alternative!

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  • IsitJimKerr  |  December 18 2012, 8:51AM

    Agreed this is a problem, but like I always say, there is a solution, we just have to find it. If much of this drum-thumping is coming from the environmentalists, then I'm afraid I have a problem. Pollution levels have to be measured, but just as there are 'highs' there are 'lows'. Pollution at this junction, I would wager, is caused by HGV's chugging UP the hill from Gloucester, not those 'ticking over' waiting to turn left down the hill from Cirencester. As well, while levels there might be higher, the altitude and funnelling will disperse them very quickly. And has been said, given that the traffic levels overall aren't being reduced, those emitions will just be moved to Shurdington at peak times. And while it is unfortunate for residents (how many live at the Air Balloon?), it will be far worse on the flat plains into Cheltenham. Ironically, if you look at the photograph, there are no vehicles queueing to turn right, just one small white van already moving, with nothing coming to block them anyway. The ONLY thing stopping the flow of left turners is the severity of the bend, nothing can be done about that, or the flow from Ullenwood. Here's a bit of left field!......how about just one set of part-time traffic lights, before the Cheltenham turn, coming from Ullenwood. If it senses a queue of traffic coming down the hill from Cirencester, it stops the traffic. This will allow the queue to go, the traffic from Gloucester to continue, and a small bonus, anyone coming from Cheltenham turning right towards the r'bout, won't have to guess whether the traffic coming from Ullenwood is heading for Gloucester or Cirencester!

  • thomas1996  |  December 18 2012, 7:14AM

    I agree with the comments that a left side filter lane taking traffic towards the Brockworth by-pass would be the best & most effective solution, this would be best achieved if the pub wasn't there but does it really matter if the Air Balloon site is bought and the pub re-located elsewhere a short distance up the road towards Cirencester? I'm sure the building could be taken down stone by stone and re-built by stone masons exactly as it was.

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  • grumpyoldman  |  December 18 2012, 12:35AM

    You can just hear the briefing can't you - we know this area is a nightmare, but our budget to fix it is only £50, so all we can do is put up a couple of no right turn signs. Obviously a "solution" suggested by people at the HA that don't have to use this route on a regular basis. The real solution is filter lanes, a tunnel, or anything else suggested by the other commenters - but those schemes are all too expensive. They were able to find the money and compulsarily purchased land to build the M5 junction 11a though to deliberately cripple it into a 3 way junction - have you ever looked at the footprint of that on a map? There would have been money for the Air Balloon if they'd put a simple 4 way junction at 11a instead.

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  • Alf58  |  December 18 2012, 12:08AM

    They don't need to build a tunnel or to create "no turns" for traffic travelling to Cheltenham from Cirencester. They need to compulsory purchase two strips of land - one running in a broad curve starting from around the entrance to the pub car park/field at the back of the Air Balloon, dropping round and down to the A417 as it heads down towards Gloucester - all the Gloucester traffic can be filtered off before it gets to the roundabout. The other strip of land from opposite Leckhampton Hill junction curving round to join the A417 opposite the start of the first new strip carrying Gloucester traffic (put in traffic lights or a roundabout here to regulate traffic flow across the carriageway). All Gloucester bound traffic from Cheltenham, Seven Springs and Cirencester can be channelled via these two new stretches of road. Get rid of the roundabout and put in traffic lights at the junction of Leckhampton Hill and the second new stretch of road. Traffic from Seven Springs turns left at the Leckhampton Hill lights for Gloucester, right for Cheltenham and straight over for Cirencester. Traffic from Leckhampton Hill turns left for Seven Springs, right for Cirencester and straight across the lights for Gloucester. Traffic from Cirencester turns left onto the first new stretch of road for Gloucester or goes straight on and turns left at the Leckhampton Hill lights for Cheltenham or goes straight over for Seven Springs. Traffic from Gloucester turns left at Leckhampton Hill for Cheltenham, straight over for Seven Springs and right on to the second new strip of road to rejoin the A417 further up the hill for Cirencester. This would mean none of the Gloucester traffic from Cirencester even reaching the Air Balloon as it would be filtered off earlier, leaving the new junction at Leckhampton Hill with a lot less (up to 50%?) to deal with. The installation of lights would reduce the accident rates and allow for breaks in traffic to allow better filtering of vehicles into the traffic flow. I think this would work, but it couldn't be worse than the amazing idea of making it no right turn for traffic from Cirencester heading towards Cheltenham!

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  • Andyman123  |  December 17 2012, 7:34PM

    Barking mad proposal. If it hacks off Tories in Cheltenham that official in the HA will be stacking shelves in Tesco before long ! Expect this to die a death very quickly...

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