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November 6, 2011 10:46 pm
The country’s road network is facing a £13bn funding shortfall as a result of spending cuts and a lack of strategic planning, despite government forecasts that congestion will jump by more than 50 per cent in the next two decades.
Road funding was hit hard in the last spending review, forcing the Highways Agency, which manages England’s trunk roads, to halve the amount it invests in new projects compared to recent years.
Capital expenditure in the next four years is budgeted at less than £4bn and has contributed to the cancellation or deferral of almost 100 projects designed to increase capacity on many of England’s busiest stretches of road, according to a joint report by the RAC Foundation and Arup, which is published on Monday.
The report analyses spending plans on England’s strategic and trunk route network, which accounts for more than three-quarters of the UK road network – responsibility for the main roads in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London are devolved.
Projects shelved include a £1bn plan to widen the A14 near Cambridge and a £1bn scheme to add capacity at the Dartford crossing over the river Thames.
Most of the 96 schemes identified in the report are designed to alleviate congestion on the existing network, including motorways and trunk roads, rather than controversial plans to build new roads.
Government figures show the road network will become increasingly congested as a result of the UK population growing by 10m by 2033, resulting in a 46 per cent jump in traffic and a 54 per cent increase in delays.
“There is a bit of denial by the government in terms of the scale of the funding challenge and what it needs to do to the network in terms of meeting future demand,” said John Smith, one of the authors of the report, who used to work in the water and rail industry.
The report argues the government should make extensive use of road pricing, such as tolls, and bring in the private sector to close the funding gap. It says road planning has suffered from being too centralised and by limiting the mandate of the Highways Agency to short- and medium-term management and investment of the network.
The government is awaiting the outcome of an independent review of the role of the Highways Agency. Mike Penning, the roads minister, told the Financial Times that although the government had ruled out road pricing on existing roads “we have always been clear that we will consider proposals put forward to build new roads with private capital through tolling”.
He added: “Our first priority has to be cutting the record budget deficit and with limited funds available we haven’t been able to continue with every single road scheme. However, transport investment was treated as a priority...in the spending review and we have committed £4bn on Highways Agency major projects, capital maintenance and enhancements.”
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