SOUTHAMPTON is set to get its first toll road within the next ten years, the Daily Echo can reveal.

From 2016, drivers could have to pay to drive into the city from the east along the A3024 - the route from the Windover roundabout to the city centre over Northam Bridge.

A dedicated bus lane could also be constructed on the same road between Bitterne railway station and Northam Bridge.

The new bus lane and toll road are likely to be introduced between 2015 and 2016.

Southampton City Council has previously toyed with bringing in road tolls to pay for repairs to the city's road network.

The Labour administration in 2001 looked into the idea but rejected it fearing it would put people off visiting the city.

The new measures are part of an £800m package of transport improvements for Hampshire and the south east which have been agreed by the South East of England Transport Board.

It forms part of a massive investment in infrastructure called for by the assembly as part of the South East Plan - a 20-year planning framework for the region.

However, the scheme has been condemned by the Association of British Drivers which claimed it would do nothing to ease congestion in the city.

Director of policy for the association, Mark McArthur-Christie, told the Daily Echo: "Toll roads cost a vast amount of money to install, police and enforce. These things are not going to break even for years. They will not make congestion any better and will simply make drivers pay more."

Malcolm Paine, chairman of the Bitterne Park Residents' Association, said: "The city is already congested at rush hour and there could be a lot more done to address that, such as park and ride.

"These schemes are very successful in Oxford, Winchester and Norwich."

The busy road - one of the major routes into the city - is currently closed along its westbound section for six weeks while highways engineers carry out improvements to the drainage system and footpaths.

The work is expected to be completed by the middle of November.

South East of England Transport Board chairman Councillor Nick Skellett said: "The board agreed a multi-million-pound transport package to be invested in much-needed infrastructure in the south east.

"This is good news for every part of the region.

"Earlier in the year, the government accepted our advice on transport priorities for the period to 2011 in full.

"We hope we will receive an equally positive outcome for this programme in spring 2007."