Road-widening upgrade of A465 is £100m over budget (Wales, UK)

Wales’ biggest road building project is costing taxpayers about £100m more than planned, a new report has said.

Transforming the A465 into a dual carriageway between Gilwern and Brynmawr was meant to be finished by September 2018 but is now pegged for completion in April 2021.

The Welsh Government said the scheme was complex, but would bring benefits.

The five mile-long project in the Clydach Gorge has been hit by legal disputes between the Welsh Government and road builder Costain.

The geology of the area has been at the centre of the challenges and what has been found on site has been more difficult to build on than anticipated.

Both sides have argued over who should pay for the increase in cost.

The Wales Audit Office (WAO) report into the delays said it was impossible to say how long the dispute would take to resolve and the uncertainty meant it was difficult for the Welsh Government to predict the final figure.

It is part of a larger project to widen the A465 and was first envisaged in 1994.

In 2014, costs to the public purse were estimated by the Welsh Government at £223m, but this has risen to £321m.

However, the overall estimated project cost is much higher and is not included in the report due to commercial sensitivity. Costain believes the Welsh Government’s estimated share is understated.

The WAO said the level of disruption to local communities had been greater than expected. Six weekend closures had initially been agreed for safety reasons, but by the end of November the section of A465 had been closed for 57 weekends.

The scheme involves replacing the old three-lane road, with builders fitting the new road into the gorge with split carriageways – with one part on a different level to the other – utilising a number of retaining walls.

These have formed part of one of several complicated legal disputes as the parties argue how to deal with increased construction costs.

According to the report, elements of the design developed by Costain for the walls were considered by the firm to be “impossible and/or illegal to construct in compliance with relevant standards/regulations or have been changed for other reasons”.

“The changed designs are costing significantly more to construct”, the report said.

Arbitration led to the Welsh Government and Costain splitting the increase, but the two parties remain in dispute about who is liable for a significant portion of the increase in cost.

Other issues have included asbestos found at a former factory site, where the Welsh Government had to foot the bill.

Legal fees have mounted – with the Welsh Government having spent £1.49m by last November.

Economy Minister Ken Skates said on Tuesday that builders have delayed the end date to April 2021.

The Welsh Government said the project was “widely recognised as one of the most complex road engineering projects in the UK at the moment”.

It added: “We recognise the frustration caused by the issues highlighted in the report, and will of course consider its findings.”

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Construction, Europe, Futurity News, Highways, Wales