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WIDENING congested motorways into four-lane super-highways is the centrepiece of a possible multi-million-pound upgrade of our transport network, a secret document obtained by the Daily Echo has revealed.

The hard shoulder of a 15-mile stretch of the M3 and M27 - from Winchester to Hedge End - will become a fourth lane to help ease the crippling bottlenecks that plague drivers.

Extending the M271 an extra mile - from Redbridge Roundabout to the Millbrook Flyover - into the heart of Southampton is another radical scheme canvassed in the report.

Improving access to the docks is seen as a key priority for the city, and options include building a tunnel under the city, or an enormous new flyover.

More than a dozen ambitious proposals were identified in a consultant's report investigating how the region will cope with the planned 80,000 new homes by 2026.

Other schemes include:

  • Bus and high occupancy vehicle only lanes on Bursledon Road.
  • A hybrid bus/tram service on the Gosport peninsula.
  • Creating a Botley Bypass.
  • Widening Northam Rail Bridge.
  • Five park-and-ride sites.

Transport chiefs from Hampshire County Council, Southampton City Council and Portsmouth City Council now have six weeks to decide which schemes they will ask the Government to fund.

They remained tight-lipped about which proposals will be backed, but the Daily Echo understands that widening the gridlocked M3 and M27 is a priority.

According to the report, a fourth lane would run from junction nine of the M3, in Winchester, to junction seven of the M27, at Hedge End.

The scheme, called Active Traffic Management, has already proved successful on the M42 in the West Midlands, where congestion has been slashed on an 11-mile stretch in the past year.

Under the plan, the hard shoulder - the left-hand side of the motorway currently reserved for use by emergency vehicles and breakdowns - would be used as an extra lane during the rush hour.

The M27 carries about 120,000 cars a day, and an extra lane would increase the capacity by a third.

With more than 80,000 new homes planned to be built in south Hampshire by 2026 - including major housing developments north of Hedge End and north of Fareham - it is forecast that traffic delays will worsen by more than 50 per cent in 20 years' time.

While the Highways Agency says that it currently has no plans to widen the motorways, Sean Woodward, the leader of Fareham Borough Council and chairman of PUSH (Partnership for Urban South Hampshire), has already backed the proposal.

"The new strategic development areas are at junction seven and junction 11 of the M27, so it is important that the motorway is widened," he said. "We'd like to see all of the transport schemes happen, but it's a matter for members to agree what the actual priorities are.

"It's very difficult to identify what we can do until we know what money we've got and what we can afford."

Southampton City Council councillor Gavin Dick said that the Government must fund infrastructure improvements if the city was to meet its housing target of 16,300 new homes.

The Cabinet member for environment and transport also said that the M271 had to be restructured if the port was to expand.

"The UK needs Southampton to be successful, with so much freight and the amount of cruise passengers coming through. The city has to be a priority for the Government," he said.

"With the port expanding, the Government has got to address the infrastructure issues around that. The port benefits the UK and yet the Government doesn't seem to want to benefit the south coast."

Dr Richard Hall, from the Transport Research Group at the University of Southampton, said that Active Traffic Management was cost-effective and safe.

"It has proved successful in Birmingham, where it has provided increased capacity on the road and improved safety as well, so it has benefits all round really," he said.

"It's about making the most of the existing infrastructure that you've got, so it's something worth looking at very seriously."

However, Dr Hall said that planners must put in place new public transport networks to serve the new communities. He said: "If they can get good public transport infrastructure in place before the development gets to a significant size then people will not be automatically having to use their cars to get anywhere."

According to the report, new bus routes and link roads would serve the two new developments, while the long-planned Chickenhall Lane link road from junction five of the M27 would serve the strategic employment zone near Southampton Airport.

Five park-and-ride sites have been nominated at the M271, junctions five and eight of the M27, the M275 in Portsmouth and at the start of the A27 in Farlington.

Transport for South Hampshire (TfSH) manager Peter Murnaghan, from Hampshire Country Council, said that the South East England Regional Assembly would be approached for funding in early March. He said that the priority schemes identified by the consultants might not be the same schemes backed by the TfSH.

"It's the consultant's view of the world, not our view of the world, that is the important thing to stress. It's now up to us to decide whether we agree or disagree," he said.

"Our strategy is reduce, manage and invest. We've got to reduce the pressure on transport, we've got to manage the networks better and only then do we start looking at the investments."

Work on new climbing lanes at the M27 from junctions 11 to 12 began at the weekend and the widening of junctions three to four starts next month.

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