MOTORISTS should be the first to see the benefits of a South Yorkshire package of multi-million-pound road, rail and tram improvements to be introduced over the next seven years.
Within the next 12 months, drivers will be able to use the hard shoulder of the M1 as a fourth lane between junction 32 at Thurcroft and 35a at Chapeltown.
By 2015 they will be able to use the hard shoulder between junctions 28 and 31 as well.
Rotherham-born Transport Secretary Justine Greening has revealed hundreds of millions of pounds’ worth of transport improvements, which will also include a trial run of tram-trains between Sheffield, Rotherham and Parkgate by 2014/15.
The scheme would be subject to final approval of funding by the Chancellor, George Osborne.
And a decision will be made by the Government in July on whether to electrify the Midland Main Line railway from Sheffield to London, and remove bottlenecks on the Sheffield to Manchester line.
Electrification would cut journey times from Sheffield to the capital to well below two hours, something seen by Network Rail as one of its top priorities.
Ms Greening said funding for the M1 was confirmed and officials have been ‘working up detailed plans’ since the autumn.
“The two sections where hard shoulder running will be introduced around Sheffield are between junctions 32 and 35a, to go ahead in 2012/13, and 28 to 31, which is scheduled for 2013/14 or 2014/15,” she said.
“Both will help a busy stretch of motorway, reduce congestion and speed up journey times. We all know how much people rely on the M1.”
Hard shoulder running is being introduced as a cheaper alternative to original plans to widen the M1 to four lanes plus a hard shoulder. The new proposal can go ahead much more quickly as no new road has to be built.
The tram-train scheme would use Supertram tracks from the city centre to Meadowhall South, then a rail line into Rotherham and out to Parkgate.
Ms Greening said: “We are looking to try to make sure there is funding. We are working with South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, Network Rail and Northern Rail to make sure the business case stands up.
“If funding is approved, the tram-trains are due to start running in 2014/15.”
She added: “Electrification of the Midland Main Line and the Northern Hub scheme to improve lines between cities including Sheffield and Manchester are included in a review of what investment should be made by Network Rail in infrastructure over the next few years.
“The review concludes in July when recommendations will be made. We are a government that is investing substantial amount of money on the railways.”
Ms Greening said the Government had also shown its ‘commitment’ to improving transport links around South Yorkshire by granting £34.3 million for the Sheffield to Rotherham bus rapid transit scheme, and £14m for four new trams.
And Ms Greening confirmed the £3m new footbridge at Sheffield Midland rail station could be in place ‘within 18 months’ once a scheme is agreed.
Sheffield Central MP Paul Blomfield, Sheffield Council and South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive have sent her a letter welcoming the funding.
But she said she would still require formal acceptance from the three parties within the next week so the project can go ahead.
Ms Greening said: “There are two main options on the table - a completely new bridge or rebuilding the station goods bridge.
“We would then be talking six months for the planning process, then 12 months for construction, so you are talking a year and a half before the new bridge is in place.”
She added the Government was also committed to considering other solutions to reducing fare evasion at Sheffield Station, such as more conductors on trains.
And she said if ticket barriers do go ahead, they would not be installed on the existing footbridge until a replacement was open for residents of Park Hill and Norfolk Park, and tram passengers.