VILLAGERS have helped mark the official start of construction of an £11 million new flyover on the A64 at Bilbrough Top.

Representatives from parish councils in Bolton Percy, Appleton Roebuck and Bilbrough - all villages adjoining the scheme - were invited to join the Highways Agency and their contractors for a turf-cutting ceremony.

The project will make the dual carriageway between York and Tadcaster safer for all road users by providing a safer crossing and improving access to the Bilbrough Top service area.

A dangerous gap in the central reservation, implicated in numerous accidents, was closed several weeks ago in preparation for the start of construction work.

The Government gave the flyover the go-ahead last autumn after the Evening Press took its Close The Gaps campaign message to Westminster.

The parents of Jamie Sanders, a 16-year-old from Northallerton who died after being in collision with a car as he tried to run across the dual carriageway, met Roads Minister David Jamieson to make a personal and successful plea for the flyover.

Mr Jamieson said today: "The Government has listened carefully to safety concerns from local people about this stretch of road and I am pleased that this work is now officially under way.

"The central reserve gap at the site - the source of many safety concerns - is now closed and road users can look forward to further safety improvements when the new junction is completed.

"This is an important scheme for the large number of road users who regularly travel on this stretch between York and Leeds.

"But it is also significant for the villages adjacent to the site which will benefit from safer links between their communities via the new flyover."

Contractors have been on site for a number of weeks setting up site offices and making early preparations for the official start of work.

Two lanes of traffic will be maintained during peak hours on both carriageways throughout construction.

A 40mph speed limit will be in force throughout the project to allow safe working conditions.

The new flyover is expected to open to traffic by spring next year.

Updated: 08:16 Tuesday, February 03, 2004