THE Government is to be asked to finance a transport scheme seen as crucial to the economic growth of the region.

A long-awaited consultants' study, which looked into the upgrading of the A66 trunk road around Darlington, recommended a £52m-plus plan to cope with expected growth.

The North-East Assembly yesterday supported the consultants' report, agreeing to submit it to Government ministers for consideration for funding.

Parts of the bypass are presently used by 20,000 vehicles a day, but that is expected to rise to about 41,000 by 2025.

The predicted growth, and traffic chaos that could result, led to fears that the town may struggle to live up to its tag as the gateway to the Tees Valley.

Consultants WSP/Carl Bro were commissioned in May 2003 to undertake a study of the road between Blackwell Bridge and the Great Burdon roundabout.

Their package of proposals includes dualling the A66 with junctions between the A67 Yarm Road and to the east of the Great Burdon roundabout.

There would also be improvements at all other junctions on the A66 to the south of Darlington and a park-and-ride scheme at Morton Park.

Assembly members also agreed yesterday that an application for funding for the Darlington Eastern Transport Corridor scheme -linking Haughton Road with the A66 -should be included in their submission.

The assembly's Tees Valley gateway study project manager, Colin Blackburn, said last night: "The lobbying begins here. We now have the evidence we needed to support the upgrade.

"The Highways Agency and the Government have the funding and we need them to provide it. But our application goes into the national pot and we will be competing against other schemes."