The highway network is to get an extra 900 miles of capacity, thanks to £24 billion investment. The new road capacity aims to be added to England’s strategic highway network by 2021, which is a third more than was provided in the previous decade.
The £24 billion investment is the biggest since the 1970s, which aims to see annual funding for enhancement motorways and major A roads triple over the next 6 years. Investment includes more than £9 billion on maintenance, £6 billion of which aims to be spent on resurfacing 3,000 miles of the strategic road network.
Roads Minister John Hayes has said about the investment: “This is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan to secure a brighter future for Britain. We are delivering around 35 percent more capacity on our roads, than was delivered in the 9 years up to 2010. We’re doing this with great care for our environment. This extra capacity will be achieved mainly by the use of smart motorways and selective widening to minimise the environmental impact. It will benefit hard-working people and businesses, help ease congestion and create a road network fit for the 21st century and beyond.”
The period 2001 to 2010 saw construction of 574 lane miles. The current government has committed to 60 new road schemes, the majority of which aim to be completed by 2021, subject to value for money and deliverability. This aims to provide 962 miles of new road, 35 percent more miles of road per year than under the previous government. More road schemes are expected to be added to the programme, following the 2014 Autumn Statement, which might include solutions identified as part of 6 feasibility studies that are looking at dealing with some of the most notorious and long-standing hotspots on England’s roads; including the A303 in the south west and the A47 in the east of England. Along with the results of the Highways Agency route strategies, a comprehensive review of all roads in England, the outcome of the studies aims to help ensure that the government continues to meet the future needs of road users.
Taxpayers may also save more than £2.6 billion over the next 10 years, as the Highways Agency is transformed into a government-owned company. The new company, of which the Transport Secretary is the single shareholder; aims to use stable, locked-in funding to boost efficiency with the supply chain and aims to be more accountable to Parliament and road users. Later this year, a new long-term roads investment strategy aims to be published, setting out a clear vision for the new highways company that aims to include a new investment plan and set out performance requirements for the road network.
There has been debate among transport experts about the correct way to increase traffic efficiency; some suggested the greater introduction of smart motorways. These are motorways, which use active traffic management (ATM) techniques to increase traffic capacity, by employing variable speed limits and hard shoulders running at busy times. Some drivers might already be familiar with smart motorways around Birmingham on the M6 and M42, and more recently on the M1 in Bedfordshire and the M62 between junctions 25 and 30 in West Yorkshire; which is now open to traffic. On these roads, smart motorways actively manage traffic in an attempt to improve people’s journeys; using a combination of variable mandatory speed limits and extra capacity, through using the hard shoulder at peak times.
In addition to this idea, some experts also believe an increase in speed limits could help traffic efficiency. Plans to increase the motorway speed limit to 80mph are still being developed within the government. Britain’s speed limits are lower than many other countries in Europe. France and Italy both impose a maximum of 81mph, while Germany has zero restriction at all.
What else might be done to increase the efficiency and capacity of the highway network?