IT has been almost two years since roadworks along Ipswich Road and Harwich Road in Colchester began.

The scheme has been described as one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the town’s history.

For the first 12 months most of the work concerned utility diversions, with BT cables, gas mains and water mains diverted.

It means pipes and cables are now under pavements and verges instead of the road itself, so any future alterations can be done without road closures and the huge expense which goes with it.

The Waitrose wall has been demolished, moved and re-built, and road widening along the route has taken place.

From water leaks to cable replacement problems the project has seen more than its fair share of setbacks.

Then came coronavirus stopping work on site for a month and the discovery of urgent repairs needed to the railway bridge in Cowdray Avenue.

Now the project is nearing completion with resurfacing and line painting getting underway in a matter of weeks.

The phrase Rome wasn’t built in a day is perhaps an apt one for this project.

Essex County Council’s infrastructure boss Kevin Bentley said: “We don’t do roadworks for fun, they are done because they are needed.

“This was all about widening a road for more houses which will be built in Colchester.

“In lots of cases the buildings of homes happen before infrastructure is in place. Here the infrastructure is going in first.”

The road used to be the main route in and out of Colchester.

As a trunk road it had the water pipes for Colchester and phone lines for Harwich underneath it.

One wrong move and thousands would have been without phone lines and there could have been serious flooding “in a matter of minutes”.

Mr Bentley added: “The project was always expected to take 18 months to two years. The first year was all the utility engineers.”

And Mr Bentley hit back at residents who claimed they could not see work happening on site.

During the first year of work most of the engineers on site were working underground on the cable and pipe works.

Unfortunately some took their frustration out on the site workers. Signs had to be put up urging people not to abuse workers, who now wear body cams.

Mr Bentley said the workers on site did not deserve to suffer abuse while doing their jobs.

“We had bottles of urine thrown at workers and verbal abuse,” he said. “I insisted they wore body cameras and we would prosecute.”

Over the course of the past two years Ipswich Road south has faced numerous closures.

Businesses such as Rollerworld and the Old Siege House have said they suffered as a result.

Mr Bentley said he sympathised with the firms affected. “We helped them where possible and showed people ways to get into that part of Colchester.

“However, we had to do the work. When all these homes are built in five to ten years time no-one would have been able to get off their driveways let alone drive anywhere.

“Whenever we did this work we would have the same problem.”

Some had questioned why the project has taken so long when the 31.4 miles long Channel Tunnel was built in six years.

Mr Bentley said: “When they built the Channel Tunnel they didn’t have moving traffic or to have to keep roads open.

“If we had that we could have done it in half the time.”

As the project came to its final weeks and months it faced a series of unforeseen problems.

When coronavirus hit, Eurovia, the contractors, made a decision to take their staff off all their building sites across the UK.

Workers had Covid-19 related training and were able to be back on site four weeks later.

Then weeks later workers discovered urgent repairs were needed on the railway bridge at Cowdray Avenue.

Work on the Ipswich Road roundabout was paused until it could be fixed.

Despite the setbacks Mr Bentley is confident the whole project can be completed by September.

The Harwich Road roundabout will have resurfacing and line painting from July 13.

Read more >>> Three weeks of partial overnight closures planned at Ipswich Road

Mr Bentley said: “This is the biggest civil engineering project we have undertaken in recent years.”

And Mr Bentley said once complete, it will be a job well done.