Gas engineers face a race against time to solve a leak that has caused huge traffic jams in and around Portsmouth. They’ve been told that it needs to be solved before the Olympic Torch arrives in the city on July 15.
But Southern Gas Networks, which says several leaks have now been detected under London Road in Hilsea, says it cannot guarantee it can solve the problem before the relay weekend.
If work is not finished, the road will have to be infilled temporarily to avoid huge problems for the thousands of motorists driving into Portsmouth for the torch relay on Sunday and Monday, and the celebration at Southsea Common on Sunday night.
Work on the southbound carriageway of London Road about 50 yards south of the Portsbridge roundabout caused huge hold ups last night and again this morning for rush hour drivers trying to get in and out of the city.
There were long delays on main roads in Portsmouth and on the M27 and A27.
Some drivers complained of poor signage warning of the works, and others questioned assurances that staff would work around the clock to try to solve the problem.
Chloe Boyce, spokeswoman for Southern Gas Networks, said: ‘Our workers haven’t left the site. There are parts that aren’t visible from the main road. We are there all the time we have had crews there all night.
‘It started from London Road, across under the dual carriageway and into Hilsea Lido.
‘We can’t just swamp it with people. There are only so many people who can do the excavation and they have got quite specialist teams there.
‘Someone was there manually directing traffic under the Hilsea roundabout this morning to try and get people following the correct diversion.
‘We have this period until July 13. We have already found two leaks. We are not sure they are the only two leaks.
‘It’s a massive job for us. It’s particularly complex, it is a big pipe and it’s quite far down.
‘We can’t give a timescale. We’ve committed to [working] round the clock. We will get it done as soon as we can, safety permitting. We can’t rush things.
‘If we have not finished the work by Friday next week we will temporarily back fill the excavation and open the dual carriageway [during the Olympic torch procession].
‘However we want to get this done as soon as we can. We understand the disruption it is causing.
‘We sympathise that people are having to go through this.
‘The pipes are a couple of metres below the road surface.
‘They are having to work through reinforced concrete and compacted chalk so getting to the pipe is very difficult.’
‘When we dig we have to let the ground vent. It is an integral part of the safety process in establishing where we need to focus in our efforts.’
Call Southern Gas Networks on 0845 0701431 for information.