A1 - A421

Black Cat Roundabout

Where is it?

On the Bedfordshire section of A1, notorious as an ancient section of A1 full of roundabouts and right-turns, where the A421 trunk route from Bedford joins in.

What's wrong with it?

This whole section of A1 is at best unacceptable, and at worst downright dangerous. The Black Cat Roundabout is certainly a contender for the most dangerous junction on it. Considering this stretch of all-purpose A1 is between two sections of A1(M), the place where it meets another trunk route (and one which is a grade separated dual carriageway just a few miles further on) is not the place for a cramped roundabout. The Black Cat is a regular on traffic reports for overturned lorries and general congestion as the sheer volume of traffic finds it hard to get through.

Why is it wrong?

This section of the A1 was upgraded quite a while before the sections around it — it was dualled when the rest of the road was still single carriageway, by slapping another two lane carriageway next to the existing one. Back in the 1950s it must have been a dream, but now, stuck between two sections of fast A1(M), it's abysmal and traffic using it isn't used to travel on such a low-grade overused road. This junction simply hasn't been updated and is long overdue for an overhaul.

What would be better?

The A421 upgrade works could have included a new junction. It wouldn't be achieving the impossible to build a new roundabout with the A1 flying over the top — basic and very much a plain-vanilla option but it would be perfectly adequate here. Sadly all that happened was that the existing roundabout was made larger. Alternatively, since there's no other roads involved, how about a free-flowing trumpet, costing not much more in land, less in overbridges, and returning more in capacity?


Right to reply

Grahame 18 May 2015

I regularly use this part of the A1 at weekends, when the roundabout has always had reasonably light traffic compared to weekday rush hour. Last night, Sunday, was our first hold up - in over 20 years - at this time! Traffic lights? Appalling decision. God knows what it is like at peak times. Cheap wins - again. There's no logic to HA policy. North of Peterborough there has been a systematic policy of removing roundabouts, with dramatic effect on journey times. Further south, chaos and misery with a wider roundabout and longer queues. You couldn't make it up.

L Saunders 17 October 2015

So months of misery, congestion and frustration and the not inconsiderable sum of £6million, has resulted in huge queues and more misery.

I was actually stuck on the slip-road at Eaton Socon last week, so bad was the congestion.

Everyone involved in this farce should hang their heads in shame!

Ray Dart 16 August 2017

This is a truly dreadful junction, the "improvements" of a few years back resulted in longer and heavier queues at peak times than ever existed with the previous layout. My reason for adding this comment right now,is that the jams and queues have recently got far worse, and since nothing obvious has changed, I am at a loss as to why this has happened.

James 21 October 2017

Well, the end *may* finally be in sight. Plans are afoot to build a new dual carriageway from Caxton Gibbet to the Black Cat roundabout, and all options would include a partially grade separated junction. Work is currently planned to start in the spring of 2020.

sheri burditt 27 December 2017

Stuck in long queue of traffic. Ridiculous timing of lights. What a farce. Flyover needed.

Angry Motorist 25 January 2018

Silly old roundabout. It should be modelled on the Baldock Jcn. (the end of the A1(M))

Floyd Pitt 27 July 2018

Put a trumpet in for A1/A421 movements, cut off the unclassified Bedford road (at the the junction with Roxton road) and put slip roads to/from the bridge over the A421 on Roxton road for all the other movements. This would also mean that the suicidal looking Chawston Lane junction with the A1 just to the North, could be removed.

Roxton Road seems too close to Black Cat roundabout itself. But to cater the river crossing to the south I can extend your suggestion:

Bypass A1 to the west from south of "Church End", cross the river to the south of Roxton and build the trumpet to the SW of the town. The A421 east of that becomes A1.

Keep your Roxton road junction and smooth out Black Cat to become a full-fledged Service. Grade-separate and re-route everything north of that until the A428 junction.

Yes, I did think that maybe Roxton road was too close to Black Cat to be honest (although a totally new juction could be built futher west along the 421 I suppose). I was trying to avoid the cost of a river crossing as well, but the one there now does need straightening, so it might as well be done at the same time.

F.Pitt 23 August 2018

Can anyone tell me why the A428 that goes East (from St. Neots to Cambridge) was not numbered the A421 (as a continuation of the A421 that joins Black Cat)? I know that at one time the A428 finished at Black Cat, but East of here it was the A45 to Cambridge anyway.

That work is in the pipeline, complete with grade separation of this junction, but it's currently postponed awaiting the completion of A14 realignment.

Or maybe that plan would fall through the cracks again for another time.

Stefan Slater 27 September 2019

I would to see a freeflow junction to keep the traffic flowing.

The A428 Black Cat to Caxton Gibbet dualling is upgrading it to a three level stacked roundabout. This junction's days as a Bad Junction are numbered. I'd have liked a freeflow loop for A1sb to A421wb though.

Using this junction regularly, I don't see how a A1(S) - A421 free-flow link would be justified once the roundabout is upgraded. The roundabout should be able to cope with the two largest movements which would be A1(N) - A428 and A1(S) - A421, with some tactically placed signals ideally with MOVA/SCOOT technology. They are providing a free-flow slip for A421 - A1(N) traffic, which makes sense as there is the land and it's easy to achieve. A free-flow slip for A428 - A1(S) would also be easy and cheap to install. With this all in mind, the financial feasibility for a A1(S) - A421 free-flow link that would require significantly more land and money to construct is not a viable option for planners.

Have you seen how massive the new roundabout will be? The rather heavy A1sb to A421wb movement will pass through nine at grade junctions to get through the roundabout, some of which will be signalised from the start. Also, I don't think it would be unreasonable to have freeflow there when both the other options had it.

Well, there already IS a free-flowing link for the A428 to the A1 (S) so that's not an issue. Also, if a first -world country can't afford a simple trumpet junction (where there is plenty of room to do so), for a major A road, then something is seriously wrong. Just throwing traffic lights at these kind of roundabouts is also a very backward-thinking way, not to mention the cost of electricity running the lights 24/7. The problem needs solving once and for all instead of the usual British 'half a job' way that costs more in the long run. It should have been done right in the first place. Anyway, there is plenty of money about- don't believe the bull.

Tobye 1 October 2019

The A428 scheme is another missed opportunity to upgrade the A1 between the A421 Black Cat and the B1514 Brampton junction, the A14 Huntingdon Bypass scheme could have easily grade separated the B661 Buckden roundabout, which would have at least made the A1 free-flow from the new A14 all the way down to the A603/B1042 Sandy roundabout. But as is typical for HE, they would rather finish these two schemes, and then bring back the roadworks for a third scheme to upgrade the A1. Oh the logic boggles the mind!

An obvious benefit of splitting the schemes is to allow construction workers to keep their job for a while longer.

Glenn Aylett 4 September 2021

This section of the A1 is dangerous and old fashioned. Rather like the mercifully replaced sections in North Yorkshire, it used the cheap alternative of building a new carriageway next to the old one, good and cost effective 60 years ago, but not now, where drivers have to watch for vehicles like tractors pulling out from farm tracks and at grade junctions. I would recommend this whole stretch of road between two motorways is replaced and Black Cat replaced by a grade seperated junction.

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Published21 February 2017

Last updated3 March 2017