Furious drivers accused the council of causing mayhem after roadworks threw the town into chaos at rush hour.
The start of work to move utility pipes in preparation for the £21m extension of the tram tracks up Talbot Road from North Pier to North Station has come at the same time as vital repair work on Harrowside and Squires Gate bridges.
With part of the Promenade closed near Talbot Square, filter lights on Devonshire Road and traffic backed up along town centre routes, some motorists complained it took almost half an hour to move just 600 yards.
The junction of Talbot Square and the Prom closed for six weeks yesterday and a stretch of Dickson Road has closed for resurfacing and footpath work. The pipe work is due to be completed in March.
Diversions have been put in place and measures to ease traffic congestion include opening St John’s Square to traffic and making Church Street two way.
READ MORE: Blackpool gridlock: Twitter reacts
The council has said the work, which will benefit the town in the long run, must take place out of season and updates will be published on its website as the phases of the work change.
Graham Fish, who lives in Cleveleys and is a maintenance engineer for Sainsbury’s, said it had taken him more than an hour and a half to get along Dickson Road from Gynn Square to Talbot Road.
He said: “The roads were just jammed with traffic. There appears to be no effective traffic management plan.
“There were cars using the side streets as a rat run and drivers in frustration turning off and trying to find alternative routes only to have to come back because of the one-way system and get back in the queue further down.
“Apart from the question whether this work to extend the tram tracks is needed at all, just before Christmas is not the best time and when you combine it with the other roadworks going on around the area such as the two bridges, it is mayhem.
“Big city councils seem to be able to handle major traffic schemes, why can’t Blackpool Council?”
Jayne Ashcroft who lives off Warbreck Hill Road said the delays had made her late on her way to Preston.
Describing the traffic as ‘crazy’, she said: “It took me 25 minutes to travel 600 yards.”
Kevin Brown from Cleveleys said: “I have never seen anything like this. It was bumper to bumper, drivers were getting frustrated and people were trying to turn off the road. The town centre is like a no-go zone.
“I know this work has to be done but with all of the roadworks going on at the same time this is crazy.”
Coun Tony Williams said: “The whole thing is a shambles. I know there are deadlines to meet and schedules to follow but these can be shifted. The council is doing nothing to help the traders just before Christmas, they might as well have put closed signs either end of The Promenade. I will be putting forward a motion at the full council meeting next week to reconsider the current parking offer and make the car parks free from December 18 onwards.”
Fred Jackson, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for highways, said: “The works are vital and are part of a larger project to create a better town centre for residents, visitors and businesses and lead to further investment and jobs creation for people.”
He said the council had used a range of methods – from letters and press releases to social media posts and the council website – to let residents and traders know about the work.
He added that discounted parking charges were being offered on key shopping days to encourage shoppers and there would be entertainment in the town centre.
John Blackledge, director of community and environmental services at the council appealed for patience.
He said the council had advertised the works extensively but the messages had not yet got through to everyone. He added that as drivers found out about the diversions, the traffic chaos was likely to ease up in weeks to come.
Traffic travelling northbound will be diverted along The Promenade, Chapel Street, Central Drive, Albert Road, Regent Road, Cookson Street, Talbot Road, High Street, Dickson Road and The Promenade
Southbound traffic will be sent along The Promenade, Springfield Road, High Street, Talbot Road, Buchanan Street, George Street, Grosvenor Street, Park Road, Reads Avenue, Chapel Street and The Promenade.
Our man tries out the replacement bus service
7.45am. Monday. The car says it’s two degrees outside. If it could say more, it’d probably ask why I was leaving it in a car park to board a bus.
But, tasked with testing out the new replacement bus service, leaving my beloved warm Gwen the Astra is what I was doing.
I’ll spare you the finer details, but after negotiating diversions through gridlocked morning traffic I arrived at Blackpool North and was soon safely on board the 8am service to Preston, stopping at Layton, Poulton, and Kirkham.
A notepad and pen in hand, I scribbled: ‘New car smell. Clean leather-look seats. USB chargers on the back of every other seat’.
As replacement buses go, Blackpool Transport’s new fleet – which will be used on the resort’s streets once the railway line is back open – is pretty impressive.
The other thing that struck me was how quiet it was. I sat on the top deck, behind the stairs, while a schoolgirl sat at the front eating crisps. There were people downstairs, but this was not sardines-in-a-tin situation.
At eight on the nose, we were off. After stopping at Benson Road, near Layton train station, to allow a group of schoolchildren on at 8.11am, we were off again, this time down Garstang Road towards Poulton.
We arrived at the station at 8.22am and shortly after, we hit the first bit of noticeable traffic in Breck Road, close to the roundabout at Amounderness Way, and then later in Mains Lane, Singleton. We were still sitting at the traffic lights at the junction of Garstang New Road as the clock ticked 8.38am – just two minutes before we were due to get to Kirkham, where we would eventually arrive at 8.52am.
I was technically already at work, so didn’t have the stress of being late to worry about, but I did notice others nervously start to check their watches and phones as we hit the Preston traffic a bit after.
As we finally pulled up outside the train station at 9.22am, the doors opened, and a transport worker summed it up best as he asked the driver: “Traffic?”
And that’s exactly how it felt. There was no big disaster, and the ride was smooth enough. But it was the little niggly things that made all the difference, like a bus having to stop in the middle of Westcliffe Drive, Layton, because a motorist decided they’d stop in the bus stop.
Or the lollipop lady in Weeton Road, Kirkham. Or the lights in Singleton. Essentially, it just felt like the journey couldn’t have been made any faster at that time of the morning.
I got the direct service back, and made it on time easily, so I have to question whether the timetables need reworking – and people warning to catch an earlier service just in case.
Rail upgrades on the way
As part of work to improve rail journeys on the Blackpool to Preston, Network Rail will close the Preston to Blackpool North line until March 25 next year.
The Blackpool South line has also shut and will reopen on January 28.
The routes will be electrified, ‘paving the way for better trains with more seats’, the firm said.
“We’re also improving the track layout and modernising signalling equipment to reduce delays and improve performance,” it said.
“Work includes the replacement of 84 signals and moving the signalling control to the Manchester rail operating centre. Blackpool North and Kirkham and Wesham stations will be remodelled as part of our plans to simplify the current layout of the railway.”