From the Port of Felixstowe the road heads west, bypassing Ipswich to the south via the Orwell Bridge and to Stowmarket, Bury St Edmunds, Newmarket and Cambridge where it meets the M11. There is a very busy section past St Ives, Huntingdon and the junction with the A1, from there through Kettering, Northamptonshire, ending at the junction of the M1 with the M6.
The road is a dual carriageway, most with two lanes each way, but there are two dual three-lane sections: on the Newmarket bypass (between Junctions 36 and 38) where it runs concurrent with the A11, and a short stretch between the Girton Interchange and Bar Hill. The road is heavily used by trucks carrying freight from the Port of Felixstowe (Britain's busiest container port) and the Midlands, North West and Ireland.
There are three at-grade junctions: with the B663 at Bythorn in Cambridgeshire (junction 15); at the Leighton Bromswold turn a few miles to the east (junction 17); and at the Dockspur Roundabout at the edge of Felixstowe (junction 60).
Prior to the current A14, the main route from Birmingham to the Haven ports followed the old A45 road via Coventry, Rugby, Northampton, St Neots, Cambridge and then through all the towns on the A14, from there to Ipswich where it ended on the A12. Prior to its use for the current route the A14 designation had been used for a section of road between the A10 at Royston and the A1 at Alconbury following part of the route of Ermine Street which now, in most parts, is designated the A1198.
The M45 motorway was constructed in 1959 parallel to part of the old A45 in the Midlands. It opened on the same day as the M1 motorway and was soon one of the busiest sections of motorway. The M6 opened in the late 1960s and early 1970s, after which more traffic to the ports used the route from junction 1 of the M6 via the A427 to Market Harborough followed by a short section of the A6 to Kettering and then the A604 to Cambridge before joining the old A45 to the ports as above. The M45 now carries little traffic.
The sections from Huntingdon east to the ports were upgraded first, starting with the Huntingdon bypass in 1973, followed by the Girton to Bar Hill section in 1975/76 and the Cambridge northern bypass and Cambridge/Newmarket section in 1976/77. The Bar Hill to Huntington section opened in 1979 prior to the M11 which was fully opened in 1980. The Ipswich southern bypass including the Orwell Bridge opened in 1982.
The 'M1-A1 Link Road', completing the current route, was constructed between 1989 and 1991 following a lengthy period of consultation. The first inquiry was in 1974 and then a series of inquiries for sections of the preferred route from September 1984 until June 1985, during which objections came from some 1,130 sources. Subsequent public inquiries were held regarding Supplementary Orders. The route close to the site of the Battle of Naseby was particularly difficult and was taken to the High Court.
The link was opened by John MacGregor, Transport Secretary on 15 July 1994.
Work to create a compact grade-separated junction (Junction 45/Rougham) and to re-align a 2-mile (3.2 km) stretch of carriageway was completed in 2006.
Vehicles over 7.5 tonnes traveling east were banned from using the outside lane on a dual 2-lane section on a 2-mile (3.2 km) steep climb to Welford summit close to Junction 1 (A5199) from spring 2007; a similar scheme covered 2 miles (3.2 km) of the westbound carriageway from Junction 2, including a particularly steep climb to Naseby summit. The bans are active between 6am and 8pm and are intended to reduce delays to other traffic from lorries attempting to pass on these climbs.
Between 2007 and 2008 a new section of two-lane dual carriageway was constructed at the Haughley Bends, one of Suffolk's most notorious accident blackspots, to rationalise access using a new grade-separated junction. The road opened in the summer of 2008 with some associated local works being completed early in 2009.
Variable Message Signs (VMS), traffic queue detection loops and closed circuit TV (CCTV) were installed at a cost of 58m euros during 2009 to 2010 Both carriageways between Junction 52 (Claydon) and Junction 55 (Copdock) were refurbished during 2010 at a cost of £9 million. Work was being carried out a year earlier than scheduled as part of a UK government’s fiscal stimulus package.
The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway connecting Cambridge, Huntingdon and St Ives, which opened in 2011 was intended to remove 5.6% of traffic using that section of the A14 (rising to 11.1% with the new Park & Ride sites), although as other traffic re-routes to the freed-up road space from other parts of the local road network, the net reduction is predicted to be 2.3%.
The Felixstowe and Nuneaton freight capacity scheme, designed to take more lorry traffic off the A14 between the Port and the Midlands by increasing rail capacity and allowing the carriage of larger 'Hi-cube' shipping containers by widening to the W10 loading gauge, opened in 2011.
Junction 55 (Copdock interchange) to the south of Ipswich was signalisation in 2011, along with lengthening the off-slip from the A1214. The section around Kettering between Junctions 7 and 9 was widened to three lanes between November 2013 and April 2015 at a cost of £42m.
After initially being shelved in 2010, the Catthorpe Interchange at the road's Western terminus underwent a massive restructuring in 2014. The redesigned junction was intended to allow freeflowing traffic movement between the A14, the southern terminus of the M6 motorway and Junction 19 of the M1 motorway. The first part opened in September 2016, and the upgrade was completed three months later.
The plan, originally called the 'A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton' was to included widening from Fen Ditton to Fen Drayton broadly on the existing alignment and then on a new route from Fen Drayton to the south of the current road to the Brampton Interchange before tracking the A1 north to Ellington.
The Highways Agency unveiled its plans in March 2005. Details of the preferred route for the Fen Drayton to Fen Ditton section were published in March 2007. The contract was awarded to Costain Skanska Joint Venture on 28 January 2008, which worked on detailed plans and the Highways Agency before publishing a draft order. The scheme was expected to open in stages between 2015 and 2016. The Highways Agency estimated that the Ellington-Fen Ditton widening would cost between £690 million and £1.2 billion, making it the most expensive scheme in their roads programme.
In October 2009 the cost estimate had risen to £1.3b with work due to start in 2012 and being completed in winter 2015/2016. The Campaign for Better Transport was opposed to the plans, listing their reasons for objection as the carbon emissions the road would induce, the cost, and its negative impact on non-car travel. The coalition government suspended the scheme when it came into power, with Philip Hammond, the Secretary of State for Transport, suggesting that the scheme would be 'axed' on Monday, and that the only way it would get built was as a toll road. That government money would not pay for the scheme was confirmed at the end of October, when Roads Minister Mike Penning said that the scheme was unaffordable and no longer offered acceptable value for money. The scheme was officially cancelled in 2010.
In 2011 the government announced an 'A14 Challenge' inviting people to present proposals for the route. The revised scheme, now known as the 'A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Improvement Scheme' involves widening of the A1 between Brampton and Alconbury, a new Huntingdon Southern Bypass, widening of the existing A14 from Swavesey to Milton, and a new local access road between Swavesey and Girton. The A14 viaduct in Huntingdon town centre will become redundant and will be demolished. In November 2012 it was reported that the scheme might be back on a fast track to implementation and it was mentioned in the June 2013 spending review.
The project was approved by the Secretary of State for Transport in May 2016. Work is due to start during March 2017, and will be complete by March 2021 at a cost of £1.2-1.8b.
The Highways Agency has plans to increasing capacity from Junctions 3 to 10 near Kettering 'in the longer term' and also to widen the road throughout Northamptonshire to "help cut the number of accidents and cope with the likely growth in traffic".
The A14 is no longer used by a coach service, National Express route 350 (Clacton on sea to Liverpool) between Copdock (J53) and Huntingdon (J26); National Express 305 (Liverpool to Southend-on-sea) and route 314 (Southport to Cambridge) follow the old A45 between Cambridge and Birmingham.
On 17 November 1998 a lorry collided with the petrol station between Bar Hill and Lolworth. The incident happened shortly after 11am and killed one person, with many others injured. The road was closed and there were huge tailbacks. On 26 July 2006 the A14 was closed for 24 hours near Newmarket when a van carrying acetylene gas canisters caught fire and the rescue services were advised by British Oxygen that they could remain unstable and needed 24 hours to cool. Bomb disposal officers were called in and the Red Cross set up a centre in Newmarket for those who were stranded.
From the A12 west of Ipswich to the M1/M6 junction, the A14 is part of (but not signed as) the E-road E 24. From Ipswich to Felixstowe is part of E 30.
The numbering of the A14 is inconsistent with the national road numbering scheme, as it begins in zone 5 and crosses through zone 6 on the way to zone 1 east of Huntingdon to Felixstowe. The road is concurrent with the A12 road from the Seven Hills Interchange to the Copdock Interchange which forms the Ipswich Southern bypass and with the A11 road between junctions 36 and 38.
The final 1.2 mile section of the A14 'spur' from the junction with the B1043 near Huntingdon to the A1(M) at Alconbury has many inconsistent designations. It is the only section of the original A14 (A1198 road) that still bears that A14 designation; it was renumbered A604 for a period prior to the construction of the current A14. The scheme page on the Highways Agency website for the 'A1(M) Alconbury to Peterborough' scheme carried out in 1996–1998 refers to it as the A14(M), but the map page linked from that page marks it as the A604(M). The statutory instrument for the construction of the road in 1993 also refers to it as the A604(M). Neither the A14(M) nor the A604(M) designation is used on the ground; heading onto the A1(M) heading north there a bare 'motorway' sign just past the B1043 exit without any number (see photo in the top right of this page). However, when heading south along the A1 it is signed as 'A14'. Online mapping is also inconsistent – the Highway Agency mapping (which uses Navteq data) refers to it as the 'A14(M)', Bing maps (which also uses Navteq mapping) shows it as motorway without any designation and Yahoo maps (which uses Navteq data) shows it as motorway and as the A1(M). Google maps (which uses TeleAtlas data) shows it as a trunk road called A14.
East of the Girton Interchange with the M11 at Cambridge, the A14 used to be the A45, and much of the long-distance traffic further west had previously used the A45 route. The section between Cambridge and Kettering used to be the A604, apart from a short section near Kettering that used to be part of the A6. The road which was the A14 until the late 1980s is now the A1198 between Royston, Hertfordshire and Godmanchester. North of Godmanchester the route of the original A14 became part of the A604, itself now part of the new A14 until it meets the A1 road near Alconbury, thus forming a 'spur' off the A14.