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.
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
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'.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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>.