A 14-week closure of the southbound carriageway near the top of Reigate Hill began on Monday (7 September), to allow Surrey County Council to repair a retaining wall and a vehicle barrier.
Drivers can’t turn off to Gatton Bottom to get around the problem, as the council has closed the access from the hill.
However, motorists heading in the opposite direction, northbound out of Gatton Bottom / Wray Lane, can still turn up the hill.
An official diversion route designed by Surrey is over 20 miles long and heads north to Burgh Heath, then takes in parts of Epsom, Ashtead, Leatherhead and Dorking before a return along the A25.
However the key word is “official”: the route is based on equivalent A-roads fit for even the heaviest vehicles.
The county council has said that they expect “local drivers to use more local routes”. Signs on local roads will warn that they are unsuitable for large vehicles.
Drivers can still access the Junction 8 café, in the Wray Lane car park, via Gatton Bottom or Wray Lane to travel up, and Gatton Bottom to travel down.
The closure is due to last until 11 December, but Surrey has said that it will work with the contractor to accelerate work as much as possible.
A project information page is being regularly updated with answers to questions about the work.
The page says that temporary traffic lights, rather than the full southbound closure, were ruled out because they would mean the work could only be done in shorter sections and would take longer.
Only working at night would also not help because the road has to be closed anyway for the duration of the project.
The removal of access from the hill into Gatton Bottom has proved particularly controversial, given that it is an obvious alternative route.
The project page says this is down to worries about enforcing the 7.5 tonne limit on Gatton Bottom. Using width restrictions could cause dangerous back-ups on to the M25 as drivers decide if their vehicle is suitable.
The use of marshals to prevent large vehicles using Gatton Bottom would also cause tailbacks, the council has said. Based on previous experience, some HGV drivers would even ignore them, and attempt to drive through putting the team at risk or causing vehicles to get stuck.
The page also says that doing the work earlier in lockdown wasn’t possible because of long lead times, and the need to tender for the work.
Surrey also says that it couldn’t combine the work with Highways England’s separate upgrade of junction 8, due to start in April 2021, because of a lack of confidence about whether that work would go ahead at that time.
Highways England has since said that it hopes to have a “clearer idea” of dates for its project towards the end of this year.
Surrey has described its repair to the retaining wall and barrier as “essential”.
The project page says: “The existing structure has been degraded by a combination of accident damage, erosion caused by water runoff, and the weight of heavy goods vehicles using the road.
“Originally built in 1972, it is no longer fit for purpose, and whilst the temporary concrete barrier that has been placed on the footway provides protection from vehicle impact, it does not address the continued degradation of the structure, so a permanent repair is essential to ensure the A217 remains safe for all road users.”
Article amended 9 Sep 2020