This is when the Preston-M55 link road is due to open

The Preston Western Distributor Road will take three and a half years to construct
The Preston Western Distributor Road will take three and a half years to construct

A dual carriageway linking north Preston to the M55 motorway is due to open in March 2023, it has emerged.

Work on the so-called Preston Western Distributor Road – and a connecting route through to Cottam – is expected to begin in November. Construction is scheduled to take 41 months.

READ MORE >>> All you need to know about the Preston-M55 link road
The project cleared a series of legal hurdles earlier this year after a court challenge to the design of the scheme was dropped and a planning inspector authorised the compulsory purchase of the land on which the road will be built.

The scale of the scheme means the government will have the final say and the Department for Transport will be presented with the business case for the link road early next month. A decision by ministers is expected in September.

A meeting of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership's (LEP) transport committee heard that the 2.5 mile route is forecast to boost the Lancashire economy by £108m over the next 60 years through the number of jobs which will be indirectly created by the increased capacity of the road network.

An independent report commissioned by the LEP to assess the business case rated the project as “high value for money” and calculated that the overall benefits of the scheme could top £290m – largely as a result of shorter journey times.

Hossein Farsi, technical lead with the report’s authors Atkins, said it was not only users of the new road who stand to gain.

“The benefits will obviously be different depending on the journey you take and those travelling north to south along the route itself will benefit most.

“However, people travelling east to west across Preston will also have improved journey times, because they won’t be sharing space on the road [with motorists who will be using the Preston Western Distributor],” Mr, Farsi explained.

The meeting was told that the estimated final cost of the scheme now stands at £185.3m, which is up from £161.6m in January 2018. When plans were first drawn up, the 70mph road had been expected to cost £104m at equivalent prices.

Blackburn Council’s member for regeneration, Phil Riley, wanted an assurance that there would be no further ”surprises” in the amount which would be spent.

Members heard that the design of the road is 95 percent complete and so the price tag now being quoted – which includes £15.6m attributed to “risk” – is “there or thereabouts”, according to Neil Stockley from Atkins.

“The design is at a very developed stage…but we don’t have final target costs,” he said.

Lancashire County Council has agreed to make up any shortfall if costs increase further before the road is completed.

Highways England will contribute £25m to the project, with £56m coming from the Lancashire Growth Deal, a pot of money obtained from the government for infrastructure projects.

The remaining sum – of just over £100m – will be supplied by the Preston, South Ribble and Lancashire City Deal and is the biggest of the five transport projects which have been financed since the deal was struck in 2013.

A second east-west link road, connecting Lightfoot Lane to the Preston Western Distributor, is being funded separately – although some of its risk costs may have been absorbed into the risk profile of the overall scheme, the committee was told.