North Yorkshire County Council is planning to push ahead with accelerated preparations to reroute the A59 at Kex Gill.
The Department for Transport, which recognizes the potential for a major landslip of the A59 at Kex Gill, has indicated that a realignment programme would be a strong contender for cash from its resilience funding pot which totals £100m and is being made available from 2017 onwards.
In order to take advantage of any potential funding, the County Council has agreed to speed up preparations for the scheme, attempting to fit a programme that would normally take six years, into three.
Kex Gill, a stretch of road, which runs across high ground between Skipton and Harrogate is a major regional cross-Pennine route carrying almost 9,000 vehicles per day. Due to the instability of the hillside which carries the A59 across this stretch of moorland near Blubberhouses, there is a significant chance of a major landslip that that could close the road for a long period of time.
The A59 at Kex Gill has been closed on a number of occasions after landslips but early in January 2016 it was closed as an emergency after significant movement and substantial cracks were detected on the hillside after the heavy rain over Christmas. It remained closed for nearly two months to enable complex and extensive drainage and remedial works to be carried out. .
A road closure at this point takes traffic on a long diversion into already congested towns along the A65 through Ilkley, the A660 through Otley to Pool-in-Wharfedale, and on to the A658 to Harrogate.
The Government shares the County Council's view that the likelihood of a major landslip at Kex Gill threatens the resilience of the whole regional east - west network. County Council officers have therefore been meeting with senior officials from the Department for Transport to discuss the Kex Gill scheme
North Yorkshire's cause for the A59 has also been helped enormously by Julian Smith, MP for Skipton, who has brought this matter to the forefront of attention in Westminster.
Julian Smith said: "It is fantastic to see that North Yorkshire County Council is forging ahead with plans for this essential scheme to improve the A59 at Kex Gill.
"This stretch of the A59 is vital for the local area and I was extremely concerned about how much disruption was caused to local residents and businesses by its closure last year.
"I will continue to do everything I can to support the County Council as it works with the Department of Transport to maintain progress on this exciting scheme."
A major re‐alignment of the A59 at Kex Gill is now a priority in the Council's Strategic Transport Prospectus for improving east‐west connectivity. The cost of such a scheme is currently estimated at approximately £33m.
"Pushing ahead at this accelerated pace will be challenging for us", said County Councillor Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire's Executive Member for Highways. "However, we must be in a position to bid for the Government funding which could progress such a scheme and so we will pull out all the stops to get the project ready to go. We know how utterly crucial it is that the A59, a major east-west arterial route, is fit for purpose, and so we will do everything we can to bring about this much-needed realignment.
"Moreover, we are very grateful to Julian Smith," added Cllr Mackenzie, "for his hard work in raising this pressing need for the A59 realignment with the DfT".
Meanwhile investigatory work has been carried out on the A59 at Kex Gill to drill boreholes and to enhance the measuring and monitoring capability in the slope to help anticipate any more movement in the hillside. This could also help identify any further works that could reduce the risk of the road being closed. Such works would represent only a medium-term solution to hold the slope in place while efforts continue to divert the route.