WIDENING of the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury could reduce journey times along that section by 69 per cent by 2032 according to the Highways Agency.
The plan is to upgrade the 2.5-mile (4km) section of the road, the main route between Hastings and London, to a dual carriageway, and the public inquiry into the scheme is now underway.
Congestion is rife on this part of the route, which carries 35,200 vehicles per day, with the average accident rate 20 per cent higher than would be expected for this type of road.
The inquiry started on Tuesday (May 14) and is scheduled to last 12 days.
Graham Whale, counsel for the Highways Agency, said: “Implementation of the scheme generates a reduction in forecast travel times along the scheme route of up to 69 per cent by the design year of 2032.
“The benefits of the scheme in terms of journey time benefits and vehicle operating costs benefits amount to £286,067,000.”
He added that Government funding for the current development phase of the scheme had already been approved.
While final approval for funding for construction was yet to be sought, Mr Whale said: “The inspector, and the public, can be satisfied that there is no financial impediment to the scheme.”
The scheme has been assessed by the Highways Agency as being high value for money, however concerns have been expressed by some groups over the environmental impact, particularly on the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the nearby RSPB nature reserve.
Acres of ancient woodland will also be destroyed if the plans go ahead, and The Woodland Trust is one of the organisations which will be objecting to the A21 scheme during the course of the inquiry.
Mr Whale said that 800 emails had been received from members of The Woodland Trust, relaying their concerns.
Graham Link, project manager for the scheme, summarising the evidence for the Highways Agency, said: “Within the requirements of design standards, it has not been possible to eliminate any impact whatsoever on the AONB, the RSPB reserve and ancient woodland.
“However, with the proposed mitigation measures, any residual impacts are considered to be proportionate and outweighed by the benefits of the scheme.”
Other supporters of the project include East Sussex County Council, and Hastings MP Amber Rudd, who is due to speak at the inquiry on Thursday (May 23).
It was almost exactly a year ago that roads minister Mike Penning announced public consultation work would begin on widening the route between Tonbridge and Pembury.
Campaigners have been calling for improved road links between Hastings and London for many years.