THE planned M4 relief road would cost much less than £1 billion, first minister Carwyn Jones said earlier today.

Under current Welsh Government plans a new stretch of motorway to the south of Newport will open in 2022, aimed at easing the notorious bottleneck near the Brynglas Tunnels where three lanes narrow to two.

Previous estimates for the road have put the cost at around £1billion, but Mr Jones said: “The reason why I won’t reveal an actual cost at this stage is we have to negotiate with contractors and the last thing we would do is declare our hand upfront in terms of how much money we are prepared to pay. But it’s a long, long way underneath £1 billion.”

Monmouth AM Nick Ramsay quizzed Mr Jones on the ‘black route’ between Magor and Castleton during First Minister’s Questions at the Senedd in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday.

He referred to last week’s question session, when Mr Jones suggested the route could be altered to include a higher bridge across the Usk which would allow ships to pass underneath and access all of Newport Docks.

Mr Ramsay AM said: “You indicated that the Port of Newport’s major concerns over disruption to their operations by the Welsh Government’s M4 black route could be mitigated by a new bridge.

“Now given that some estimates have already put the cost of your chosen M4 black route at over £1 billion, will you give us a current assessment of how much you think that route is going to cost and how much will a new bridge add to the price tag?”

Mr Jones declined to answer how much money a higher bridge might add to the cost.

He stressed: “[Prime minister David Cameron] has said the Brynglas Tunnels are, as he put it, throttling the South Wales economy and I agree with him. That much is true.”

Referring to options like the ‘blue route’, of upgrades to the SDR, he said: “It would not be correct to say that there are easy alternatives that are simply being ignored. There are not. If we are going to get this done, we need to get it right.”

Newport East AM John Griffiths raised better public transport as a way to ease congestion, saying the government should push for ‘modal shift’, encouraging people to switch to using buses, trains, bikes and their feet instead of cars.

Mr Jones replied it was “self evidently true” that traffic problems would ease if more people left their cars at home, but he said: “I don’t think we can rely on that in terms of the M4. There is traffic on it that can’t be moved easily on to the railways, especially on weekends with a lot of tourists coming in with a lot of luggage.

“If there are four or five of you it’s cheaper to go by car than it is by train.”

The amount of freight transported by lorries would also be hard to transfer to public transport, he said: “Yes you can promote modal shift to an extent but nevertheless there will be occasions when building a new road will be important.”