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O'Rourke has northern A1 upgrade in the bag

CONTRACTS - HIGHWAYS

LAING O'Rourke has taken pole position in the race for an £85 million deal to upgrade part of the A1 in Northumberland.

The firm is now the preferred bidder for the Morpeth to Felton stretch of the route.

The firms who missed out were Balfour Beatty, Carillion, Costain, Nuttall and Skanska.A joint venture between Amec and Alfred McAlpine, which has been carrying out a series of upgrades to the A1 further south in North and West Yorkshire, decided not to bid for the work.

At one stage the running was so close that the Highways Agency called in an independent assessor to analyse bids. Following the assessments the agency has now confirmed that it has chosen a preferred bidder.

A project source said: 'Laing O'Rourke has got this one in the bag. It has been a pretty close call.The Highways Agency is carrying out reality checks now with them to make sure everything is shipshape.'

The upgrade will centre on the existing 13 km section of single carriageway, creating an additional lane in each direction.

This stretch of road saw 49 major accidents between 1999 and 2003. Highways Agency bosses are hoping the new work will vastly reduce this figure.

The scheme will link the existing Morpeth bypass with the Felton bypass, providing a dual carriageway from Tyneside to Alnwick.The scheme will include a new bridge to carry northbound traffic over the valley at the River Coquet.

The Early Contractor Involvement project was added to the Government's Targeted Programme of Improvements when it was announced in July 2003.

The deal had originally been part of the £226 million north-west roads package but was ultimately tendered separately.

Bids were returned more than three months ago on April 7 but the Highways Agency has still not officially confirmed which bidder will carry out the work.

Construction is not due to start until 2008 with completion due in 2010.