A #50 million new highway to slash congestion on one of Birmingham's busiest commuter roads is to finally get the go-ahead today - 14 years after it was first mooted.

The Selly Oak New Road will cut a 1.5 mile (2.5km) swathe through the south of the city and is expected to halve traffic on the heavilyused A38 Bristol Road.

The scheme also aims to revitalise the university area around Selly Oak as a shopping district and stimulate the development of a technology corridor for high-tech businesses.

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Transport Secretary Alistair Darling will visit Birmingham today to announce the start of work on the long-awaited relief road which is due for completion in 2009.

"The Government is committed to investing in our road network, to aiding regeneration, reducing congestion and to improving safety and quality of life for people who shop in local shopping centres such as that in Selly Oak," he said.

"The Selly Oak New Road is a very important scheme both in aiding major regeneration developments and in helping to revitalise Selly Oak as a local retail centre."

Up to 37,000 vehicles travel along the Bristol Road through Selly Oak every day and there are more than 20 bus services on the route.

One of the city's major road arteries, it is also a regular source of frustration to commuters, with traffic regularly grinding to a standstill.

Plans for the relief road were first tabled 14 years ago but have struggled to gain political and financial backing.

City planners believe the bypass will unlock 90 hectares of development land and secure investment potential in excess of #700 million.

It is viewed as vital to encouraging growth of the high-tech corridor that will see developments at MG Rover's Longbridge plant and the BBC's former Pebble Mill studios.

The single carriageway road to the west of the A38 will also provide access to Birmingham's planned new superhospital, Birmingham University and a Sainsbury's superstore.

The plans have, however, generated some opposition because they will involve downgrading parts of the existing Bristol Road from dual carriageway to a single lane.

Rev Dr Dick Rodgers, an orthopaedic specialist at Birmingham's Children's Hospital, claimed the new road would do nothing to alleviate congestion.

He maintained a collision on the new bypass would effectively cut the city off from its south-west suburbs and the new hospital.

The Government is to provide #21 million funding towards the new road. The rest will come from other contributors, including Birmingham City Council.

A council spokesman said: "Not only will it reduce traffic congestion, but it will also enable improved access to the new hospital and provide the catalyst for further local improvements as part of the wider regeneration of the Selly Oak area."

During his visit Mr Darling will open the #160 million National Traffic Control Centre at Quinton. It will provide "real-time" information to drivers about the nation's 4,500 mile (7,300km) motor-ways and trunk roads.

He will also approve Birmingham City Council's #26.6 million Urban Traffic Control Major Scheme Bid aimed at easing congestion on local roads in the region.

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