Penwortham can breathe again as millions of vehicles divert to new bypass
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Almost two-thirds of all journeys in or out of the town have switched to John Horrocks Way - not far short of what experts hoped for when the new £17.5m ring road was unveiled in December 2019.
The figures, obtained by the Lancashire Post, show what a huge success the bypass has been in removing vehicles and their pollution from what was once one of the worst traffic bottlenecks in Central Lancashire.
And County Hall’s transport spokesman has now called on the town to take advantage of its long-awaited congestion relief and “realise its full potential” as a destination with a vibrant cafe culture.
Traffic statistics, revealed by County Hall in response to a Freedom of Information request, show that 63 per cent of all traffic to and from Penwortham is now skirting the town on the relief road instead of travelling through the centre on Liverpool Road.
Planners set a target of up to 70 per cent when the road was designed. But now, with its popularity steadily increasing compared to the route through the town centre, that aspiration is within reach.
A staggering 8.8m journeys were made on John Horrocks Way between January 2019 and last month. With the figures yet to be issued for December - 486,000 journeys were clocked during November - the two-year total is bound to exceed nine million.
And without the Covid pandemic, which caused large reductions in traffic generally during lockdown periods, the effect of the new road could have been even more dramatic.
“It’s been a massive welcome change,” said Coun David Howarth who lives in Penwortham and represents it on town, district and county councils.
“It used to be bumper to bumper from Hutton through to Strand Road. Now those traffic jams are no longer there and it is such a relief.
“We have seen the growth of a cafe culture along the main street in Penwortham these past two years and that is because traffic is not spewing out all those fumes for people sitting outside the bars and eating places. It’s much more inviting.
“You can freely walk around now and it is a far more vibrant place. I would say it is already a destination in terms of the night-time economy.
“One thing I would say though is that to make it even more attractive the county council needs to sort out the pavements, some of which are a complete disgrace.”
John Horrocks Way, named after the town’s founding father, had been 30 years in the making when it opened two years ago. There was no official ceremony, no fanfares, no ribbon cutting, all because of “purdah” restrictions governing councils in the build-up to the 2019 pre-Christmas General Election.
Instead barriers were removed and traffic was simply waved through on the first day of operation.
Traffic along the A59 through Penwortham immediately dropped by just over half in the first three months, until the big coronavirus lockdown at the end of March saw it fall even more dramatically.
In April the town saw only 3,562 vehicles travelling along Liverpool Road a day compared with 9,350 the previous month and more than double that before the new road opened.
The new bypass clocked 209,255 vehicles travelling east towards Preston and 185,765 going the opposite way towards Hutton in its first full month of operation (January 2020).
In the February the figures were 199,950 and 180,648 respectively and in March 180,105 and 162,758.
But as soon as the first national lockdown arrived on March 23 the numbers more than halved to 83,963 and 76,413.
By the summer the vehicle count was climbing steadily and in September it peaked at 210,011 and 189,315 for any month in 2020.
Since then, despite further periods of lockdown, even more drivers have been using the ring road, the numbers reaching 249,573 and 237,033 in November 2021.
One Liverpool Road resident, whose house used to face standing traffic for long periods most days, said: “It’s a different town now. You only ever see queues at the Cop Lane traffic lights and they don’t last long.
“It’s mind-blowing to think more than nine million cars, vans and wagons that would have come past our front door have been removed. No wonder the main street is thriving with all its new bars and cafes.”
Despite the huge reduction in traffic through the town, there have still been more than five million vehicles using Liverpool Road during the past two years, clocked by sensors near to the start of the bypass at Howick.
More traffic reducing measures have been discussed to discourage drivers from using the main road unless absolutely necessary. But locals seem happy with the work the bypass is doing so far to free the town from the curse of congestion.
Coun Edwards added: “The bypass has made a huge difference to traffic and pollution levels in Penwortham, showing why it was such a big priority for the county council for so long.
“Combined with the improvements to the A582, the completion of the bypass has added considerably to the capacity for South Ribble’s economy to grow in the coming years and create the opportunities for current and future generations to prosper while maintaining the green open spaces which make this such a great place to live.
“I want us now to realise the full potential of Penwortham with the work on the cycle superhighway and to encourage a cafe culture feel for the area, so that Penwortham becomes a destination.
“The City Deal funding which made these improvements possible represents a huge investment in the future of central Lancashire and I’m pleased that we have laid the ground for Penwortham and the surrounding area to thrive as we recover from what has been a difficult period, with the Covid pandemic coming along just a few months after the bypass opened.”
John Horrocks Way has been open for just two years, yet the statistics are mind-blowing for the people who live there.
From being a town choked up by nose-to-tail traffic for most of the day, particularly during morning and evening rush hours, Penwortham has become a living, breathing district centre with new bars and eating places opening on either side of its main street.
The ending of traffic congestion has brought new opportunities for businesses, with empty shops being snapped up by traders looking to be part of the revolution.
Had there not been a relief road to take traffic around the town, the LCC figures show the residents would have had to endure around 14 million vehicle journeys along Liverpool Road in the past two years. And but for Covid lockdowns that number would have been even higher.
As it was more than nine million vehicles used the bypass to skirt the town, leaving just over five million still using the main street.
The stats show in the whole of 2020 there were 2,131,879 journeys eastbound (from Hutton) and 1,916,647 trips westbound (towards Hutton). In 2021 (11 months as December figures were not available) 2,489,772 vehicles drove along John Horrocks Way eastbound and 2,298,442 westbound.
Figures for the A59 Liverpool Road showed 1,520,707 journeys were made towards Hutton in 2020 and 1,334,390 in the Preston direction. In 2021 (just nine months as September were
the latest figures released) it was 1,225,675 towards Hutton and 1,334, 390 in the opposite direction.
In total the bypass attracted 8,836,740 vehicle journeys - or 63 per cent - compared to 5,172,231 on Liverpool Road.