A31 - A338

Ringwood Interchange

Where is it?

On the South Coast Trunk Route, leaving the New Forest and approaching Bournemouth, the road picks up extra traffic at Ringwood. It's the northern end of a short multiplex with the A338. It was spotted by Jon Fry.

The A31's westbound carriageway was widened to provide three lanes in 2022, which means this junction is no longer a problem. It's now in the Bad Junctions Purgatory list, with other former Bad Junctions, and this page describes the junction in its old form.

What's wrong with it?

With the junction itself — nothing. Just look at it. Sweet and innocent, like some sort of huge concrete flyover-shaped lamb. No, the problem is slightly to the south-west, at the point the sliproad from this junction merges with the southbound A31. Oh dear me. It causes queues of quarter of an hour or more at peak periods.

On the northbound side, things are fine. From the other A338 junction to the south, there are four lanes, and at this junction two continue on the A31 and two peel off to the A338 roundabout. All is happiness and light.

On the southbound side, there's a bit of a squeeze. All the traffic merges into the A31's two lanes. A short while later the road widens to three, then four lanes. Then two lanes stay on the A31 and two peel off to the other A338 junction. In between is an awful two-lane section carrying more traffic than it can handle.

Why is it wrong?

It's hard to say. Take a look at the short three-lane section of southbound carriageway, though, and it looks like it's been laid out ready for a fourth lane. At a guess, the river bridge carrying the southbound carriageway was already in situ when this road was dualled, and it was left there for replacement at a later date. The northbound side, on a brand new bridge, gets four lanes. The southbound side, of course, never got its new bridge and never got those extra lanes.

What would be better?

That new bridge wouldn't be a bad idea. For a quick and dirty fix, drop the fourth northbound lane at the small junction just south of here. This is the point that the fourth lane joins southbound. This makes three lanes northbound over the river bridge, with one spare. Now widen the southbound carriageway to three lanes, running the new third lane over the northbound bridge. Et voila — three lanes each way, on the cheap.

Or just build the other damn bridge.


Right to reply

Gareth Thomas 19 May 2007

I'd agree with most of what has been said, having used this junction myself quite a few times. The solution suggested seems very simple - so will probably never happen...

However there is the problem of a church and a couple of other buildings backing right onto the carriageway, which may have been the reason the third and fourth lanes are not added at the junction. The road goes past these, and then the third lane appears, so I'm guessing there wasn't room. The designers probably thought more traffic would be leaving for Ringwood and Fordingbridge than joining for Bournemouth and 'The WEST'.

David Bass 21 May 2007

The statement of the problem here scarely begins to scratch the surface.

Not shown on your map are the minor road access from Ringwood (Just visible as West St.) that is jsut after the southbound bridge, the Texaco petrol station in and out access just after that and finally the dismal slip onto the exit to Verwood and Matchams.

It's a crossing traffic nightmare, compounded by the geriatric nature of the drivers leaving Ringwood via the main entry slip Southbound.

This effectively reduces the flyover approach to the junction into a single lane as everyone "in the know" moves into the right hand lane to avoid 35mph duffers merging from the left, then tries desperately to get back over to the left whilst avoiding traffic rejoining from the garage.

Immediately after the Verwood/Matchams junction, the A338 and A31 split, with that slow merging traffic from Ringwood now trying to get across 2 lanes to head back into the pensioners' villages to the North side of the A31.

James Smith in response to David Bass 18 August 2022

In reply to by David Bass

Well, they finally closed off access from West St, but the Esso (Texaco) access is still there, so watch out for people exiting from there.

Jim Cobb 29 May 2007

This junction dates from 1977 when the Ringwood bypass was opened and had 2 lanes either side. When the western junction was grade-seperated in the late 90's, the north side of this junction was improved as you see today, basically by adding 2 more lanes on the outside, including widening the northside bridge. The south side of the road was not touched until the extra lane appears - I never saw any reasons given for this, or any plans to widen the southside bridge.

It should also be pointed out that the south-west sliproad at this junction is very poor. The merge is shorter than it looks, usually has queues on it, and the sight lines from the sliproad and the main road are very short. Unless you know the junction and move to the outside lane, it is not unusual to come over the flyover at 70 and find someone pulling out in front of you at 30!

John New 20 May 2008

You omit the associated A338 junction just west which is part of the complex. These junctions suffer (eastbound) from a common and growing fault of X flows in too short a space without sensible speed restrictions (say 50mph) enforced by speed cameras. Westbound speed is the issue as others state as you have a summit/left hand bend at 70mph in which you are blind to the slip road and users of the slip road have the converse of no view of the traffic flow they are joining. Immediately after is a very bad lane layout of off slips for the A338 and a right switch of lanes for non-Bournemouth through traffic. 40mph and a speed camera would help.

Andy Roberts 16 March 2010

The churchyard near here was partially built on to build the current short sliproad.

There is simply no room in the south side to build any more lanes. On the northern edge there is room to build more lanes, therefore I feel the best course of action is to widen the northern side to 5 or 6 lanes, and then widen the westbound carriageway into where the eastbound carriageway now lies. And yes the two lane bridge would need to be widened, but there is room.

And all of this can be done whilst keeping the road open with a minimum of 2 lanes in each direction.

Mike 10 December 2014

The junction of the minor road leaving Ringwood should be closed off. This just adds slow moving traffic to a poor piece of road. Additionally the petrol station should be closed as that causes unnecessary slow downs due to vehicles entering and leaving.

Both of these are just plain dangerous.

Mark 28 June 2015

I agree with Mike, close the slip road to the Fish Inn and the Garage. A new exit or entrance could be made from the Verwood underpass. This could be done without affecting the current road setup.

I understand Highways England are assessing this junction with a potential start date of March 2020.

Can't disagree with other comments. The Westbound A31 through the New Forest runs reasonably well until you hit Ringwood. Then in a very short distance, there's a slip road from Ringwood (which queues back into the town), a most peculiar little slip road by the Fish Inn, immediately followed by a petrol garage. As if that wasn't enough, the turn off to Verwood is straight after, followed by the road becoming 4 lanes and splitting between the A338 and A31. I can't imagine it was actually designed this way - it appears to have just "evolved".

There are daily queues, especially in the evenings and weekends. During holidays and peak times for tourists, the queues can be well back into the Forest - at least 15 minutes and up to an hour. If there's any kind of accident the queues can occasionally stretch all the way back to the M27.

There is a frustratingly selfish yet popular "rat run" at the Hightown/Poulner junction just before Ringwood. Cars leave the A31, go up the slip ramp, across the tiny roundabout and back down the other side to re-join the A31. It's sometimes like a procession of vehicles. When traffic on the A31 is near stationary , it saves perhaps a minute however just adds to the overall problem.

The whole are is a pinch point and most frustrating for many drivers.

Greg Little 7 November 2018

Highways England have plans to improve this layout, and not a moment too soon! Link.

It's listed elsewhere on this site too: <a href="/road-schemes/a31-ringwood-road-widening">A31 Ringwood Road widening</a>.

Jonathan Fry 18 June 2020

Having first highlighted this junction many years ago I thought I should add to recent comments to confirm that work to resolve this junction is due to commence in 2021. Highways England first chose the junction for improvement in RIS1 but then shunted it back into RIS2 to prevent too many improvements happening at the same time in this area. There is a single improvement option which (unsurprisingly) almost everyone in the public consultation strongly agreed with consisting of the following:
1. Widen south-western facing carriageway and bridge so that on-slip at Ringwood becomes a lane-gain instead of a merge - running up to the Verwood turn-off. The carriageway would be 3 lanes instead of 2 between the Ringwood Interchange and Verwood (the little trumpet where currently the road suddenly widens from 2 to 4 lanes with no warning!).
2. Stop up the rat-run slip road at the Fish Inn (by the petrol garage).

The deficiencies at this junction could not possibly have been design-orientated - I expect when the western junction for Bournemouth (the Ashley Heath Interchange) had its underpass built in the early 90s, they wanted to upgrade both sides of the carriageway but just ran out of money, and in the AM peak most traffic heads north-east towards Southampton so they chose that side to take the [much] higher capacity. All the hours wasted by so many drivers over so many years and probably a little more money would have fixed it way back in the 90s - it's a stretch of literally half a mile of deficient road in between two good sections causing constant tailbacks. A classic Bad Junction if you ask me. At least it is on the to-do list now.

Gregg 20 June 2020

The two-lane westbound bridge over the Avon is original to the Ringwood Bypass when it was built as a single carriageway in the 1930s. I have no idea how the HA are planning to widen it - from the plans it looks like they only want to widen one side of it.

duck. 2 November 2022

Unbelievably, it seems that this might very soon be a candidate for a move to purgatory - Highways England are just finishing the major redevelopment which has turned the westbound slip into a third running lane (across a completely new set of bridges - yes, they built the other damn bridge!) and closed the entry ramp down the road at the Fish Inn (though the service station remains).

Should be fully open in the next week or so, and then time will tell probably fairly quickly whether the absolute pandemonium of 12 months of contraflow has been worth it...

Beetèl 19 November 2022

They built the other damn bridge.

Mapper89062 26 March 2023

This junction is now stated to be in Bad Junctions Purgatory, although it is still listed on the main Bad Junctions page instead of the Purgatory one.

duck. 27 September 2023

So after living with the new layout here for nearly a year, I'd be tempted to consider re-opening the debate on the move to purgatory, or possibly newly adding either the A31-A338 junction to the east (Ashley Heath Roundabout) or the Hightown junction to the east. Or heck, maybe the whole complex through Ringwood?

The new layout here has helped flow from the westbound slip, but congestion is still pretty extreme at times both westbound approaching this redesigned layout from Hightown, and now Eastbound up the hill (but that's a separate issue, arguably not caused by a "bad junction" per se).

I'm not sure I fully appreciate the true reason for the new westbound congestion, but having driven it pretty regularly, I can highlight a few things:

  • Traffic joining the A31 westbound from this roundabout quite often wishes to continue on the A31 at Ashley Heath Roundabout, which involves changing one lane to the right. Visa versa, a large quantity of traffic already on the A31 wants to exit at Ashley Heath to proceed down the A338 to Bournemouth (or the Verwood turning shortly before), and so wants to switch to lane 1. Traffic conflicts here (especially in the first 300 yards or so) are very common, and regularly cause slowdowns - and probably the start of congestion.
  • Access to the Fish Inn is now exclusively via Ringwood, which has definitely made the high street substantially more pleasant as people stop using it as a rat run. However, the service station next to the Fish Inn has not been closed, and traffic rejoining the A31 must do so with what amounts to effectively no acceleration lane whatsoever - immediately before the slip road for traffic to Verwood. Again, more traffic conflicts - arguably dangerous ones at times as traffic emerges at basically no speed at all. Pretty sure this regularly triggers maneuvers that starts peak-time congestion.
  • Ashley Heath Roundabout now regularly queues westbound on its slip road, where lane 1 filters to the southbound A338. Not entirely sure what causes this, possibly overuse now that traffic can clear Ringwood more easily?
  • The Westbound slip at Hightown (to the east) is far too short and poorly sighted for the volume of traffic. Slow emerges are common, and accidents equally so.

I'm not saying that there hasn't been improvement here - but that pre-existing issues now very much flare up far more extremely as a result. Very curious to hear other people's thoughts.

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