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Luton Borough Council hosted a groundbreaking start-of-works ceremony for the £89 million Luton Dunstable Busway this week.
Cllr Roy Davis, Portfolio Holder for Regeneration at Luton Borough Council, officially launched the scheme by turning the first earth.
He said it was “a landmark moment” for the high-tech public transport project which has been 16 years in the making.
By 2012, completion of the busway will revolutionise public transport in Luton and Dunstable, reduce severe traffic congestion and deliver environmental improvements.
BAM Nuttall Ltd, the contractor awarded to deliver the scheme, started advanced site clearance work in January, removing overgrown vegetation from the route of the former railway track bed at the heart of the route. This followed work in summer 2008 and 2009 to relocate protected slow worms and orchids to new habitats.
Detailed design work is also already under way, with site works due to start in earnest shortly and opening of the 13.4km busway scheduled for 2012.
Colin Chick, Corporate Director, Environment & Regeneration at Luton Borough Council, said: “Following years of hard work, I am delighted that this marvellous scheme can come to fruition.
“The busway will dramatically reduce journey times between Houghton Regis, Dunstable, Luton town centre and the airport. It will help boost the economy by joining up residential areas with business, employment and educational opportunities.
“The busway forms a vital and fundamental part of the strategy for delivering business growth, regeneration and new jobs across Luton and Dunstable.
“And, since all the modern buses using the busway will produce lower emissions, it will deliver environmental benefits too.”
Paul Adcock, Commercial Director at Arriva the Shires, said: “This is welcome news which will enable us to work with Luton Council to tackle the congestion problems and also deliver real environmental and economic benefits for the local community.
“At the moment, it takes a conventional bus more than 30 minutes to do the six-mile journey from Dunstable town centre to Luton train station, with the risk that it may take even longer in heavy traffic. But services on the busway will reliably take about 15 minutes.”
Mr Chick added: “The busway offers us an unrivalled opportunity to change people’s travel to work habits by providing a high-tech public transport option which local residents should really want to use instead of the car.”
The majority of the busway will be a segregated route between Blackburn Road in Houghton Regis, through Dunstable, into Luton town centre and on to Kimpton Road, with most of this section being on the guideway. The route will then continue on the highway towards Luton Airport using a new bus lane.
Services will be provided by specially-adapted buses capable of running both on their own track and on public roads.
More than 70,000 people live within walking distance of a busway stop, and passengers will be offered a high-quality and smooth journey. 265 bus stops away from the main route will be upgraded with real time passenger information, raised pavements for level boarding, and many with new shelters.
CCTV and help points will provide safety and security at stops along the main corridor.
David McGowan, Operations Director for BAM Nuttall Ltd, said: “We are pleased to be working on this innovative scheme and are looking forward to working together with Luton Borough Council to successfully deliver this project for the benefit of the local community."
At the event today, the first sections of track were removed from the route and donated for re-use to the Quainton Railway Society in Buckinghamshire.