Archive for the ‘Road Network’ Category

Within twenty years there could be another seven million drivers in the UK meaning that, if current trends persist, the total will leap from about 36 million to 43 million.

The sharp rise is predominantly due to a growing and ageing population, and threatens to bring increased congestion and travel delays, especially in urban areas.

The forecast by the RAC Foundation helps explain why official figures suggest that traffic is set to rise by about a fifth in towns and cities in England and Wales over the next ten years; and by a third over the next 20 years (compared with 2010, Table 1).

Table 1: Increase in traffic (billions of vehicle miles) on urban roads by region (compared to 2010):

Region 2010

(Urban traffic

billion vehicle miles)


(% change

on 2010)


(% change

on 2010)

North East 7.8 18% 31%
Yorks & Humber 18.1 25% 40%
East Midlands 9.2 23% 35%
East of England 11.5 25% 39%
South East 19.2 22% 36%
London 19.4 22% 35%
South West 8.7 23% 36%
West Midlands 16.8 20% 33%
North West 22.7 19% 32%
England 133.4 22% 35%
Wales 4.6 19% 32%

Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/road-transport-forecasts-2013

The traffic and driver figures are at the heart of the debate over the way we will travel in the future. As part of its contribution to the subject the RAC Foundation invited twelve experts and organisations, with a wide range of perspectives, to give their views on urban transportation in the decades ahead.

These essays are published in Moving Cities: The future of urban travel. Each essay presents the author’s independent view.

Amongst the points raised in the essays:

  • 49% of people in England and Wales live in towns and cities with a population of at least 250,000
  • Three-quarters of households in towns have at least one car
  • Two-thirds of households in cities have at least one car
  • In-vehicle technology and smart traffic management systems are already playing a major role in fighting congestion, reducing carbon emissions and keeping people safe
  • Electric cars will bring significant environmental benefits but the cheap price of fuel relative to petrol and diesel could increase traffic
  • The pricing of transport is one of the most significant policy levers ministers have to create behaviour change
  • Change is almost certain to be incremental
  • Government will retain a crucial role in setting funding and regulatory framework


Today the infrastructure minister Danny Alexander has announced 84 new major road schemes which will be funded from the £15 billion already earmarked for the strategic road network over the course of the next parliament. This is very welcome, but the Foundation’s work illustrates the massive challenges we also face in unclogging our urban areas.

We all want to see more drivers using alternative methods of getting about but the government’s own figures suggest we face an uphill battle under present policies. To preserve the quality of life in towns and cities we must revise our travel expectations and ministers need to set clear and coherent strategies to facilitate this.

The UK’s automotive industry is leading the world in innovation to protect road users and the environment but technical innovation is not a panacea. It’s perhaps no surprise that jetpacks never caught on, but it is disappointing how levels of home and tele-working have risen so little over the past decade despite the telecoms revolution.

We should also be cautious about what driverless cars can deliver. They could dramatically cut death on the roads and give mobility to people usually excluded from personal transport: the young, the very old, those with frailties. But this new-found freedom could actually make our roads busier not quieter.

This is a list of papers and authors:

Viewpoint – RAC Foundation

Coping with the aftermath of peak car in urban areas – Christian Wolmar

Trends in urban travel behaviour – Scott Le Vine & John Polak, Imperial College

The then and now of urban areas – David Bayliss

Shaping demand in urban areas – David Bayliss

Maximising the use of the road network in London – Garrett Emmerson, TfL

Opening the highways to all in the 21st century – Ford Motor Company

The dawn of now: changes in transport design – Dale Harrow, Royal College of Art

Customer technology: the ticket to greater mobility – Shashi Verma, TfL

Urban space and street design – John Dales, Urban Movement

Spontaneous mobility – John Miles, Cambridge University

Regulation: bridge or barrier – Philip Pank

The (likely) future of urban mobility – Timothy Papandreou, The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency


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A presentation to the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum by Philip Gomm

I want to start by talking about a friend of mine called Nick. He is a conscientious and loving son who enjoyed a very close relationship with his father.

For some time Nick’s father had been seriously ill and Nick was making regular journeys between East Kent and Essex to spend time at his father’s bedside.

A fortnight ago Nick received a call to say his father had taken a dramatic turn for the worse. Immediately Nick jumped in the car and headed off to be with him.

Unfortunately Nick got stuck in a jam. When his father died, Nick wasn’t sitting at his bedside but sitting in nose-to-tail traffic on the M25.

It sounds melodramatic, but that is the real, human cost of years of under investment in the road network, a creaking network that will come under more pressure as the economy improves and the population grows. Even if you believe that we have reached peak car – that point at which individual car use plateaus, or indeed falls, no matter how much wealthier we get – the explosion of people on this island will conspire to make congestion worse in the future not better.

There is hope on the horizon however.

When the government announced “the most radical change to the management of our [strategic] highways in nearly half a century, and the biggest investment in improvements since the seventies” we at the RAC Foundation very much welcomed it, notwithstanding that the bulk of the cash comes not in this parliament (what’s left of it) nor even at the beginning of the next, but is back loaded towards the end of the decade.

At least the money should be guaranteed. The RAC Foundation supports the transformation of the Highways Agency into a government owned company with a long term funding settlement similar to that on the railways. But even this raises as many questions as it answers, not least the role of the road user watchdog and, perhaps more importantly, what it being described as an independent monitor.

Note the word monitor rather than regulator. I am sure all of you out there will be familiar with this – Figure 2 of the recently published document: Transforming our Strategic Roads – A summary.

It says that the watchdog and the monitor are there to scrutinise costs, protect users’ interests and advise ministers. The word advise is worth underlining. The monitor is not a formal regulator. Ministers explain this purely advisory function by saying a formal economic regulator is not as necessary as it is in some other sectors because there are no direct charges to users. No direct charges? I hear 36 million drivers vehemently disagreeing. What about the £33 billion or so they contribute each year in fuel duty and VED alone?

What we are left with is a Strategic Highways Company – or companies, for the legislation allows for more than one – that will still be solely accountable to ministers. And reading the small print, even the funding is not guaranteed as the minister reserves the right to alter the terms of the Road Investment Strategy after appropriate consultation.

I will stay with the subject of drivers’ financial contribution to the Exchequer for a moment longer. The Los Angeles Times might not be required reading in your household but if it is then you could well have seen last week’s editorial in which it was pointed out that the United States Road Trust Fund is woefully short of money. The Fund is used to pay for road infrastructure maintenance and provision. Unfortunately, while the list of projects waiting to be undertaken has grown and grown the amount available to do it with has not. The level of Federal fuel tax – the source of the fund’s funding if you like – has remained the same since 1993.

Over here we face a different problem. In theory there should be more than enough cash to pay for roads. Of the £33 billion contribution made by drivers each year only a third goes back into spending on roads. What we do not have here is the US system of hypothecation for road funds. The RAC Foundation does not necessarily believe ring fencing a proportion of the tax received is the best way forward – after all spending requirements can change year to year and the amount of money set aside from motoring taxation may or may not be enough to enough to meet the needs – however it would at least send out the right message to drivers. That is, a defined proportion of what you pay is then returned to you in kind: spent on one of our most important national assets.

Already there are many sections of the road network where there is no spare peak time capacity. There is simply no slack in the system. Ironically this is what will make – in the short term – the massive investment harder to bear for many drivers. It is rare that road works – improvement or maintenance – do not have an impact on traffic flow so for those drivers already negotiating the busiest stretches of motorway the works will potentially add to their woes.

The job of managing the works programme is made harder by the stretching of the peak time travel periods. I can testify to that.

At the weekend I made a journey around the M25, along the southern section and I got stuck in traffic. The congestion was, according to the BBC’s travel presenter, the routine Saturday morning jam. Not Monday, not Friday, but Saturday.

Given what the man on the radio said and the fact that that I had experienced similar conditions the previous week you could argue that journey time reliability was actually very good: reliably slow. You could say the fault was mine for not allowing enough time for my journey.

But that is a depressing scenario. We must halt this slide towards lower and lower expectations and get a grip on how the road network is operated, funded and developed.

The RAC Foundation backs the Highways Agency and its initiatives such as Smart Motorways and All Lane running. We believe these latest proposals offer scope for significant reform that will benefit motorists. But we do not want to see an opportunity squandered. We should regard this as only the first point on the journey of change rather than the final destination. And when people ask why is investment and change necessary then we should point out the human cost of gridlock as much as the economic one.

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So we have today been told by the DfT that the Treasury collects about £27 billion from drivers each year in fuel duty and another £6 billion in VED. But what do motorists get in return? Well, helpfully, the DfT has also published data on UK road spending going back several years.

UK public expenditure on national roads

UK public expenditure on local roads

The big question is where do we go from here? We know that capital spending on Highways Agency roads is set to expand in the next parliament (though this will back  loaded towards the end of the five year period from 2015) yet local authorities continue to warn of road maintenance spending on the vast majority of the road network that is there responsibility will be under serious threat as budgets are trimmed and obligations in other areas grow.

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The Welsh Government spent more on support for the rail industry in Wales than it did building and maintaining the country’s trunk road network in 2012/13, according to its latest Transport and Travel Finance and the Economy report. This is despite only 2% of Welsh workers using the train to commute to and from work, while almost 75% drive or are driven, according to the RAC Foundation’s new The Car and the Commute report.

In the 2012/13 financial year, the Welsh Government spent £200m on the trunk road network, of which £87m funded new construction and almost £100m went on the maintenance and repair of the existing network. Only one new trunk road scheme was started in the year in question – the TTFE report, unhelpfully, doesn’t tell us which one but it does inform us that it is a 7.8km-long road scheme that will cost a total of £165m to build. On the railways, meanwhile, the Welsh Government spent a total of £206m in 2012/13, the vast majority (£175m) of which was in the form of ‘rail franchise and rail services support’.

In addition to direct spending on transport by the Welsh Government, it also provided £139m in grants to local authorities in 2012/13. Here the biggest segment by far was the £63m provided to fund the Welsh bus concessionary fares scheme. Just 4.6% of Welsh workers use the bus to get to and from work.

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Ever wondered what it costs to but road salt? £65 per tonne (plus VAT plus delivery). At least this is the price the Department for Transport is putting on its strategic stockpile of salt which will be available to local authorities to purchase if they are caught short this winter.

According to figures just released, the size of the reserve totals 425,000 tonnes – 305,000 tonnes held by the DfT itself and another 120,000 tonnes by the Highways Agency. These supplies have been imported.

Ministers are at pains to point out that the stockpile is the “salt of last resort” and the onus is on councils to have their own supplies already in place as the winter sets in, with a benchmark quantity allowing for 12 days/48 gritter runs. This starting point was one of the recommendations set out by the former RAC Foundation chairman David Quarmby in his report for government on winter resilience back in 2010.

To put the size of the strategic stockpile in context, the bad winter of 2009/10 saw highways authorities dispensing 1.8 million tonnes though according to the Quarmby Review the true requirement was probably much higher:

“…  the 1.8 million tonnes use includes the effect of conservation measures introduced as an emergency during the winter – the “strong guidance” issued by the DfT in January 2010 to make drastic reductions to salt use. We have estimated that the underlying demand during this period – which would have continued in the absence of such conservation measures and as long as salt was available – was between 0.25 million and 0.4 million tonnes higher than the actual demand, giving a potential annual total of up to 2.2 million tonnes for England.”

The RAC Foundation’s own review of winter resilience during the freezing spells earlier this year (carried out by Brian Smith who worked with David Quarmby on his report) suggests councils have learned their lessons and are devoting time and money to keeping the roads passable. So far spending on winter resilience does not seem to have been cut as significantly as many other areas of local authority budgets.

The government says it will not be making a profit on the sale of the salt it now holds but it urges councils not to splash out needlessly as there will be no 14 day ‘cooling off period’ during which highways departments will get their cash back:

“The Department is unable to accept ‘returns’ once the authority has entered into a contract for purchase of the strategic salt.”




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Here is a Wordle analysis of the speech by transport secretary Patrick McLoughlin at the Conservative Party conference:



Or, put another way, here are the numbers of mentions of key aspects of transport policy:

13 road(s)
9 transport
6 rail
5 trains
4 speed
4 schemes
4 infrastructure
3 network
3 lanes
2 travel
2 station
2 motorway
2 cycle
2 Crossrail
1 widening
1 widened
1 tunnels
1 tunneling
1 trucks
1 trips
1 travelling
1 train
1 traffic
1 track
1 scheme
1 safety
1 route
1 roundabouts
1 railways
1 privatisation
1 potholes
1 ports
1 passengers
1 park
1 lorries
1 lane

1  HS2

1 highways
1 Heathrow
1 hauliers
1 drivers
1 cycling
1 clogged
1 car
1 bypass
1 buses
1 bus
1 bridges
1 bikes
1 bike


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The latest survey of the UK’s business community by lobby group the CBI and accountants KPMG makes gloomy reading. “The report, Connect More, highlights the importance of infrastructure to sustainable UK growth, yet with many outstanding issues such as the future funding of the road network, aviation capacity and clarity over the costs of HS2, businesses expect things to get worse over the next five years,” the CBI says.

The CBI/KPMG survey of 526 business leaders found that dissatisfaction with domestic transport has jumped from 28% in 2011 (when the first survey was carried out) to a fairly depressing 49% in 2013. “With relatively few projects underway on the ground and no action on long-term road reform, there is widespread expectation that local roads and motorways will deteriorate over the next five years,” it says.

“The faltering speed of delivery on infrastructure creates a worrying sense that politicians lack the political will to tackle some of the major issues head-on,” John Cridland, CBI director-general said at the report’s launch. “We can’t afford any further delay. The Coalition must show strong leadership and prove that the UK can deliver on a small number of projects over the next 18 months and reach a much-needed consensus on bigger issues such as aviation and roads reform.”

The CBI is therefore calling on the Government “to complete all feasibility studies for road and rail projects outlined in the Spending Review and commit to detailed plans for delivery, while starting the debate on longer-term road reform by conducting an audit of the state of the road network and its costs to operate”.

The need for a comprehensive delivery plan for new transport infrastructure, rather than a ‘shopping list’ of individual schemes, was emphasised by one of the country’s biggest insurance companies, Aviva. Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Paul Abberley, the company’s head of investments, noted that less than £1bn of Aviva’s £230bn fund is currently invested in UK infrastructure. And the reason for this? “The absence of a proper pipeline of projects,” apparently. “If you look at the National Infrastructure Plan, is that an actionable plan or just a list of stuff we need?” Abberley asked rhetorically.

One small crumb of comfort for the Government’s transport department is that, despite all of the above, transport isn’t the business community’ biggest headache at the moment, with energy having overtaken transport since 2012 as the biggest future concern for businesses.

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