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A55 MISERY; Shock as drivers and villagers face another year of N. Wales roadwork chaos.

Byline: Tom Bodden Welsh Affairs Correspondent

FED-UP motorists are facing a further 15 months of traffic jam misery at an A55 bottleneck.

Roadworks started at the Penmaenbach Tunnel in April, closing one lane eastbound and causing tailbacks up to four miles long on the region's busiest road.

But yesterday motorists were warned: ``The real work hasn't even started yet.''

The Welsh Assembly last night said major engineering work was required to replace beams on a parapet which carries the road over the main North Wales railway.

The problem was identified after an HGV lorry crashed at the spot, almost ending up on the track below.

Work is now expected to last until the end of next year and the main railway line could also be affected.

Conwy AM Gareth Jones said yesterday the disruption would bringing traffic chaos to a second holiday season.

And the AA appealed to highways officials at the Welsh Assembly to act to minimise the misery, with five more separate sets of roadworks scheduled for the A55 in the coming months. Plaid Cymru AM Mr Jones asked Welsh Environment Minister Sue Essex to explain why the strengthening work at the Penmaenbach headland - originally scheduled to end before May - could now last until late next year.

``I am amazed that work has yet to start, and I have urged the Minister to expedite matters,'' he said. ``Now it seems we face at least another year, and another tourist season, of misery.

``The people of Conwy and North Wales deserve better than this.''

But the misery doesn't end there.

Further work at the site to upgrade a cycletrack is yet to be programmed.

And the A55 will also undergo resurfacing at Mochdre in October for four weeks, with an additional six weeks' disruption in January to install variable message signs.

Resurfacing at Rainbow Bridge, Llanddulas, and safety barrier upgrading at Conwy Tunnel approaches is still to be given a start date.

Conwy councillor Ken Stevens said protests were mounting among villagers who were being trapped in their homes by the volume of traffic seeking to dodge the jams.

``I'm getting complaints from people in Dwygyfylchi and Sychnant Pass and Conwy is getting gridlocked,'' he said. ``It's just ridiculous that the main highway to Ireland is treated in this way.

``This is just the latest in a long line of hold-ups, and the situation in nearby villages is becoming dangerous. There just doesn't seem to be any urgency to get the job done.''

An AA spokeswoman said yesterday it was essential to carry out safety and repair works in tunnels to prevent tragedies similar to those in other parts of Europe.

She added: ``This is clearly the worst time of the year for delays. And it doesn't help poor motorists stuck in jams to know that no physical work is taking place yet. We would urge the Assembly to try to minimise disruption and reduce the impact on nearby villages.

``Meanwhile, we would urge drivers to stay cool in the jams, try to find an alternative route if they can, and allow more time for their journey.''

An Assembly spokesman said yesterday that investigations at the Penmaenbach tunnel were continuing before construction work could begin.

``The investigations have identified a strength deficiency in old cast-iron beams supporting the road above the railway tunnel portal.

``These beams can't be strengthened, so the road decking will have to be removed and they will have to be replaced.''

``We appreciate these delays can be frustrating, but safety is paramount and has to take priority,'' the Assembly spokesman said.

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Picture: GERALLT RADCLIFFE; TROUBLE IN STORE: The Penmaenbach tunnel which will cause problems in the months ahead
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 23, 2002
Words:615
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