The long-awaited feasibility study into the Downs Link A281 crossing at Rudgwick has now finally been published.
The report carried out by consultants WSP was commissioned by WSCC following the death of Pathushan Sutharsan at the crossing in July 2020 and looked at the options for making the A281 crossing safe for users of the Downs Link. The three options investigated were:
- A bridge
- A Pegasus crossing
- An uncontrolled crossing
Despite the report clearly recommending a bridge as the best option that fulfils the requirement as laid out in the coroner’s report to “prevent future deaths” at the crossing and despite WSCC stating that a bridge is their preferred option they have taken a decision not to pursue the bridge option at this stage.
WSCC appear to have taken this decision based on being “unable to make an economic case” for a bridge – without giving any details of how this decision was arrived at.
An uncontrolled crossing, which is effectively a “do minimum” option with some minor remedial action, has been ruled out by WSCC (and in any case makes it impossible to achieve the 220m Stopping Sight Distance requirement for equestrian users). They have said they will carry out further feasibility work into a Pegasus crossing before deciding the next steps.
We believe a further look at the whole process needs to be made before any final decision is taken.
First, there are several errors in the report, some of which have a direct bearing on the validity of any decision. For example, the traffic speed data may be unreliable as by their own admission the perceived speeds on a site visit were much higher.
Second, we believe the wider context of the crossing has not been properly considered.
Making the crossing safe would bring a huge benefit to the regional visitor economy. The Downs Link is known well beyond Surrey and West Sussex but without resolving the danger of the crossing this potential remains untapped.
Third, we believe the economic case for a bridge has not been properly considered.
Were transport decarbonisation targets, government directives on active travel and savings from road injury reduction incorporated into the calculation?
The costing for a bridge is broken down into some detail but there is little detail on the costs of a Pegasus crossing.
Also, the estimated costs now being quoted for a bridge have increased by 40% since the report was published whereas for a Pegasus crossing they have increased by over 100%. We are concerned that a Pegasus crossing has not been properly costed and therefore a true comparison with a bridge cannot be made.
The Pegasus option
A Pegasus crossing will only be a partial solution to the problem of the dangerous road crossing and introduces problems of its own. Indeed a Pegasus crossing at the site was investigated by WSCC as recently as 2019 and was dismissed because of the intractable problems of lack of mains power and the speed of traffic on the A281.
The A281 is a strategic HGV route and the amount and speed of traffic increases yearly. With the development of new housing at Dunsfold (2000 houses confirmed, more likely on the way) this is only going to get worse.
Unlike a bridge which completely separates the traffic on the A281 from users of the Downs Link, a Pegasus crossing still involves interaction of the different traffic modes. Every time the traffic has to be stopped this introduces a potential cost in congestion.
As well as the interruption to vehicular traffic on the A281 the feasibility study makes clear that a Pegasus will require the speed limit signs to be relocated and street lighting to be provided.
With the expected increase in traffic on the A281 any crossing will require constant assessment and adjustment which incurs additional cost.
A signal-controlled crossing on a fast rural road will inevitably increase the likelihood of accidents on what is already a dangerous road. There have been four fatalities on this stretch of road since 2010.
Unlike a bridge, a crossing involves significant regular maintenance costs. A proposed pedestrian crossing in Rudgwick was forecast to have a lifespan of 10-15 years after which it will need to be replaced or upgraded. A bridge, whilst not maintenance free, is less costly and the lifespan is considerably longer, perhaps 50 years or more.
The maintenance and replacement costs of a Pegasus crossing have not been factored into the report which, when taking into account the longevity of a bridge, could result in a Pegasus being the more expensive option in the long run.
The Downs Link hosts a number of mass participation events such as the charity ride on which Pathushan Sutharsan was killed and the British Heart Foundation sponsored ride which drew 2,500 riders in 2021. At these peak times, a Pegasus crossing will not be able to cope with the number of users, so there will be an ongoing need to have event marshals and/or to adjust the timings of the lights to cope with peak demand.
The errors in the feasibility study need to be corrected and the decision making process revisited.
With all of the above in mind we believe that a final decision has yet to be taken and we hope to enter into dialog with WSCC to reach the right conclusion for the Downs Link, its users and promoters.