A town’s residents breathed a huge sigh of relief last week as the A465 Heads of the Valleys road was partially reopened after improvement works lasting 15 months.
However, no sooner were the signs removed on Monday November 7 than the contractor imposed a week of night closures.
People in Brynmawr have said they felt like the forgotten town due to the ongoing works on the five-mile Clydach stretch, with travellers from Abergavenny forced to divert via Rassau in a 20 minute re-route.
The latest phase of Wales’ current biggest road project, costing £336m, was originally scheduled for three to four months.
And until highways chiefs finally announced part of the carriageway was reopening last week, the frustration of being shut off for well over a year was close to boiling over, with shopkeepers saying trade had suffered by as much as £800 a month.
Gilwern resident Mererid Lewis Davies, who launched a petition demanding the reopening of the road last month, posted: “The day has come… the slip road to Brynmawr will open on Monday (November 7) on the Heads of the Valleys road… I can’t believe it.”
But contractor Costain then posted notice of night-time closures all last week, prompting her to add: “Just when we thought the road will be open full time… there will be night closures from Monday to Thursday next week 8.30pm until 6am! At least it’s open in the daytime!”
Announcing the partial reopening, a Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Both slip roads for Brynmawr are now fully operational.
“Additional repair works to the Clydach Viaduct have been required but the project remains on track and two lanes in each direction of the A465 section will open this year.”
Blaenau Gwent councillor Wayne Hodgins of Brynmawr said: “We’re very happy to see the roads connected between Clydach and Brynmawr again this week, and we have to say a massive thank you to members of the public who have been so patient and engaged with what was going on.
“Obviously we understand there has been a lot of frustration caused to people by the diversions that were put in place, which was why myself and the other councillors from Brynmawr have pushed for the developers Costain to meet the completion date for this section.
“We believe now that as this section and other parts of the A465 road start to open up it will have a major benefit to both the people and businesses of the town.”
The improvement works to convert the road from three-lane into a dual carriageway has been ongoing for seven years.
In February, highways chiefs gave “autumn 2021” as the expected completion date for the Section 2 Gilwern to Brynmawr works.
Dewi Durban of Durban’s Shoe Repairs in Brynmawr said his family business had been “pretty much wiped out” by the closures and pandemic.
And Marc Davies of First Base Designer Clothing said the closure had “dragged and dragged”, and the town was “fighting for its survival”.
Launching her petition last month, Mererid Davies said the extent of the closures had been “ridiculous… despite Costain promising they would endeavour to limit the closure to three-four months when meeting with local residents and retailers who were strongly opposed to it.
“The closure impacts everyone that needs the Brynmawr exit, and it is so important for links to the A467 too.
“We all understand they have a big and very important job to do – and are grateful that it’s been done safely – but enough is enough. The project has been beset with difficulties, with 1.3 million cubed metres of material - equivalent to 400 Olympic-sized swimming pools – having to be excavated and repairs made to the Clydach viaduct.
It has reportedly gone £100m over budget and taken three years longer than scheduled.
Residents are also furious that highways chiefs plan to impose a 50mph speed limit on the completed dual carriageway.
Mererid Davies said: “We all thought the purpose of the road was to make travelling a little bit quicker and safer along the route but with a 50 mph speed limit, enforced by average speed cameras, we really are no better off, after all the massive inconvenience it has caused users and local residents.In hindsight I honestly believe if they use the 50mph argument as a safety issue, I wonder why the old route was not kept and that cameras could have been placed to make the road safer. ‘‘
Imagine the money and inconveniences that would have saved everyone.”