MOTORISTS could face more traffic misery on their way into Lancaster city centre – after a tunnelling machine belonging to contractors became trapped underground during a major sewer upgrade.
The embarrassing hitch means that the one-way A6 at Owen Road on the approach to Skerton Bridge will again be reduced to a single lane, according to Bob Whitehead, owner of the neighbouring Fireplace Warehouse.
Mr Whitehead said he was told by contractors on Monday that the closure would be necessary and has also raised fears about the impact on trade.
A similar lane closure shortly after the £6m sewer works began last October caused major delays for drivers, especially at rush hour.
Some commuters even took diversions onto country lanes to avoid the queues at temporary traffic lights.
United Utilities has yet to confirm the lane closure but said the problem had prevented the completion of a new sewer tunnel between Mainway and Lune Street.
“We are now reviewing options on how to complete the project and are in discussions with a number of organisations including the Environment Agency, Lancaster City Council and Lancashire County Council,” said a spokesman.
“The machine was working at a depth of approximately eight metres but a week and a half into the job it became clear it had become stuck 20 metres from the end of its journey.
“There are no plans to attempt to recover the machine as it has been deemed too dangerous and too disruptive to residents, businesses and motorists.”
Mr Whitehead said he had been told about the problem with the machine – which he was told was worth £1m – when he asked contractors why they had make markings on the road outside his shop.
“I think it’s terrible,” he said. “Obviously, they have not done this on purpose but I’m going to be sitting listening to the noise and feeling the vibrations when they sort this out.
“I was told they are now going to have to dig up the one-way system outside my shop and that this will mean the road being down to one lane again, but they couldn’t tell me how long for.
“The traffic will be horrendous and it would also mean the bus shelter next door being dug up.
“I would estimate that my trade is down 30 per cent since the works began last year and this will not help.”
United Utilities says the works will help prevent the River Lune from pollution and improve water quality. Its spokesman said that it would consider compensating businesses which could “substantiate a financial loss as a direct consequence of construction work we have carried out”.
The upgrade was due for completion by June 2012, but it is now expected to last until August.
A one-way system on Lune Street, which was introduced when the works began and was due to be in place until the end of April, will also now stay in place while options for completing the project are investigated.
A spokesman for highways authority Lancashire County Council said it was meeting United Utilities today, Thursday, April 26, to discuss the problem.
Contractor Cheetham Hill Construction Limited declined to comment.