After years of neglect, the UK government is spending an unprecedented £15 billion on Britain’s roading infrastructure in improvements, expansions and repairs. ALAN TITCHALL explains.
JUST BEFORE THE END of last year the UK government announced an ambitious £15 billion plan to triple levels of spending by the end of the decade to increase the capacity and condition of Britain’s roads.
The UK is investing in more than 100 road schemes over this parliament and next, 84 of which are brand new.
Over 1300 new lane miles will be added by schemes being delivered over the next parliament on motorways and main highways, tackling congestion and fixing some of the most notorious and longstanding problem areas on the network.
“When 90 percent of journeys are taking place on our roads this work is vital to help people get on and get around,” says their transport ministry.
The ambitious, long-term roading programme is set out in that country’s first ever ‘Road investment strategy’ (www.gov.uk/government/collections/road-investment-strategy), which is designed to keep the population mobile and connected and the economy growing.
This includes £1.5 billion of investment to add an extra lane onto key motorways to turn them into what is called “smart motorways” and boosting connectivity between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire. Smart motorways use technology to change lane patterns (like opening a hard shoulder to provide an extra lane) and speeds (computer sensors along the road system calculate the appropriate speed) to keep traffic flowing and control congestion. Speed limits are displayed along the motorway on overhead signs, and in the event of an accident lanes are closed down.
Transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin said at the time: “I am setting out the biggest, boldest and most far-reaching roads programme for decades.
“This government has a long term plan to secure the country’s future and this £15 billion roads programme is demonstration of that. Better roads allow us to travel freely, creating jobs and opportunities, benefiting hardworking families across the country.”
Spending during the next parliament on England’s roads network will be boosted further by maintenance funding worth more than £10 billion across the local and national road network, he adds.
Specifically, new projects announced include setting aside £290 million to complete the dualling of the A1 all the way from London to Ellingham, just 25 miles from the Scottish border, to “make the Great North Road truly great again”. Another £350 million will be spent on improvements to the A27 along the south coast, and investing £300 million to upgrade the east-west connection to Norfolk, by dualling sections of the A47 and improving its connections to the A1 and A11.
Chair of the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee and chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander says: “World class infrastructure is vital if we are to build a stronger economy, but it matters in other ways too. It invigorates communities and gives people more opportunities to get on in life. This is why I have ensured that this government has prioritised funding roads, and railways, at a high level for future generations.”
For decades UK roads have suffered from under investment, he adds.
“So I’m particularly delighted to be able to announce this expansive range of new road schemes. Investment on this scale is only possible because we have taken the difficult decisions needed to control our public finances and stuck to our recovery plan which is now delivering strong growth and record numbers of jobs.
“These projects, like the (upgrade) scheme on the A303 (notoriously congested main road in Sth West England), will help unleash the economic potential of both the regions they serve and of the overall economy.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, says: “Now that this government is fixing the economy, we can afford to invest properly in our roads – unlocking jobs for the future and local growth by creating a road network that is fit for the 21st century.”
A new highway agency
As well as increasing capacity and transforming the busiest sections of the network, the UK government is transforming the Highways Agency into a government-owned company with funding allocated on a longer term basis, which is expected to save the country’s taxpayer at least £2.6 billion over the next decade.
The strategy also contains measures to improve the lives of communities affected by road upgrades, including £100 million to improve cycling provision at 200 key locations across the network, as well as a commitment to cycle-proof any new schemes being developed.
Another £300 million has been allocated to an environmental fund to reduce the number of people affected by serious noise by 250,000. This fund will also be used to create new charge points for electric vehicles every 20 miles across the road network, as well as enhance the landscape, protect sites of cultural or historic heritage, and reduce the impact of roads on wildlife, countryside and habitats.
It is estimated that the 84 new road projects across Britain will create over 6000 new jobs.