THE new road linking junction 34 of the M6 to the Heysham Peninsula opened to the first traffic on Monday after a two-and-a-half year construction effort costing £140m.

Named the Bay Gateway, the dual carriageway opening is a landmark moment for the project which was first identified in a 1948 Road Plan for Lancashire planning document.

The 4.8km route completes the connection from the Heysham peninsula directly to the M6, providing better access to Morecambe and industrial areas which include the Port of Heysham and the Heysham power stations. The Bay Gateway, funded by £29m from Lancashire County Council and a further £111 from the Department for Transport, will also help to ease congestion in Lancaster city centre.

The road has already brought economic benefits to the area, with over 100 local long-term unemployed people being trained and employed during construction. It is predicted that for every £1 invested in the road, the local economy will benefit by £4.

Building the Bay Gateway has been a huge engineering achievement for constructors Costain, with two million cubic metres of earth being moved, and 11 major new structures being built to cross existing roads, the West Coast Main Line railway, the Lancaster Canal and the River Lune. Great efforts have also been made to reduce environmental impact, with the scheme's nine habitat creation areas ensuring an overall gain in biodiversity following construction, and 13 new trees due to be planted for every one felled.

Lancashire County Council leader Jennifer Mein cut the ribbon to declare the route operational but work will continue on the development well into spring of 2017 with aspects such as landscaping, motorway communications, and signing due to be finished over the winter.

She said: "The opening of the Bay Gateway is an enormous milestone for Lancashire. As well as immediately improving to travel in the north of the county, this road will bring major benefits to our economy over the coming decades.

"This has always been far more than just a road building project - it will have a far reaching impact right across the county and beyond – not only reducing journey times, but transforming opportunities for businesses and people seeking employment.

"It will create local jobs by improving travel to Heysham and Morecambe, and the port, power stations and nearby employment areas, while reducing congestion in Lancaster city centre."

Andrew Jones, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, said: "Roads are key to helping people get on and get around and boosting the economy, and the Government is investing a record £15 billion to improve journeys.

"This vital new link off the M6 will reduce travel times, ease congestion, create jobs and help deliver economic growth."

County Councillor Mein added: "Lancashire County Council has a proud history of road building – the Preston bypass which opened in 1958 was the first stretch of motorway in the UK. The Bay Gateway is another significant improvement to our transport infrastructure.

"As is normal in the early life of a major road scheme, there will be some traffic management including temporary lane restrictions while aspects of the scheme such as landscaping, motorway communications and signing are completed - however it makes sense to be able to realise the benefits of the road for residents and businesses as soon as possible.

"Weather permitting, we expect all activity to be completed by spring 2017 when we will hold events to mark its official opening."

Prior to Monday's opening, more than 4,000 people took the chance to walk the length of the route on Saturday October 29, with Lancashire County Council and Costain teaming up with St John’s Hospice in Lancaster to organise a community walk along the route of the link road, to raise money for the hospice and other local charities.