£40m project hailed as biggest transport investment in East Lancashire since 1980s (From Lancashire Telegraph)
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£40m project hailed as biggest transport investment in East Lancashire since 1980s
A MAJOR project to slash bus journey times between Blackburn, Darwen and Hyndburn has been given the go-ahead by the government.
After 12 years, the final Whitehall green light was given for the £40million Pennine Reach scheme to improve key roads in the two boroughs.
It will bring a host of improvements which, by March 2016, will cut bus journey times between Accrington, Darwen, Great Harwood and Blackburn town centres by between five and 10 minutes.
The project, hailed as the biggest transport investment in East Lancashire since the building of the M65 in the 1980s, got the final approval when roads minister Norman Baker confirmed the government’s contribution of £31.9 million.
Linking the new £5million bus stations in Blackburn and Accrington town centres, it includes: l new bus priority lanes including a new link road at the Pennine Gateway along Burnley Road/Accrington Road around Whitebirk; l major improvements around Ewood; l the widening of the highway at Furthergate and Eanam with new bus-only lanes; l junction improvements with public transport priority in Rishton, Church, Earcroft and one the A666 Bolton Road between Blackburn and Darwen.
l major highway upgrades to speed bus travel in Great Harwood, Accrington, and Darwen town centre; and l a revolutionary new system where buses ‘talk’ to traffic lights to get green light priority over other traffic.
Blackburn with Darwen leader Kate Hollern said: “The approval of the Pennine Reach scheme is great news for both the borough and the whole of Lancashire, and the economic benefits from improving the public transport system and its infrastructure will be positive for local businesses and residents.”
It will cut the bus journey times between Blackburn and Accrington of 26 minutes, Blackburn and Darwen of 23 minutes and Great Harwood and Blackburn of 19 minutes by between five and 10 minutes by spring 2016 by providing a fast track for buses.
Blackburn’s Ainsworth Street bus station, opening in Autumn 2015, will be equipped with the technology for London Transport Oyster-style cards to speed passenger boarding and real time information screens.
The government grant will allow the compulsory purchase of the land needed for Accrington’s equivalent to go ahead.
Originally proposed in 2001 with the final business case submitted in 2009, the scheme will improve the bus network by providing faster, more reliable journeys and better information for passengers as well as combat congestion and improve air quality.
Pennine Reach will promote economic growth by unlocking development sites including Burnley Road/Furthergate/Pennine Gateway and the Knowledge Zone area in Blackburn and the Whitebirk Strategic Employment Sites in Hyndburn making them accessible and serviced by public transport.
It also complements the regeneration plans for the two town centres, including the £28million Cathedral quarter in Blackburn and completion of the town’s orbital route.
The government cash comes on top of Blackburn with Darwen’s £5million contribution and £3million from Lancashire County Council.
Blackburn with Darwen regeneration boss Maureen Bateson said: “Pennine Reach is the biggest investment in transport in East Lancashire since the M65 was built in the 1980s.
“It comes on top of the announcement of the revolutionary upgrade of the Clitheroe-Blackburn-Darwen-Manchester line last month, part of a strategy for promoting public transport and making it an attractive alternative to the car.
"It is also essential for economic growth to encourage new employers to come here and give jobs to local people.”
Hyndburn council leader Miles Parkinson said: “This is fantastic news for the borough and people travelling from Accrington and Great Harwood to Blackburn and Darwen.”
Mr Baker said: “This scheme will help boost the East Lancashire economy while providing everyone with easy access to good quality public transport, with easy connections between the area’s key towns and linking with the rail network. Buses play a vital role in people’s daily lives, getting them to work, school or college, to the shops or out to see friends.”
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