Patrick McLoughlin will on Tuesday move to firm up plans for an overhaul of Britain’s road network when the transport secretary promises legislation committing the next government to £28bn of investment by 2020.
He will also unveil proposals to turn the Highways Agency into a publicly owned corporation with its own five-year budget as part of efforts to develop a long-term strategy for roads.
Mr McLoughlin will say the move is designed to “bring an end to the short-term thinking that has blighted investment in England’s roads”.
The £28bn road programme was part of the broader infrastructure plans announced by George Osborne, chancellor, in last month’s spending review.
By pleading to enshrine the roads package in legislation next year, Mr McLoughlin hopes to answer critics who said the plans were worthless because the spending would not take place until after the next election.
Among the large schemes expected to receive funding is the £1.6bn upgrade of the A14 – a cargo artery between the Midlands and Felixstowe port – with work due to start in 2016 on an upgraded, tolled section.
Almost half the £28bn is earmarked for road maintenance, amid growing concern about the crumbling network.
“The good news is that big money has been committed to filling in potholes,” said Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, the car lobby group. “The bad news is that it won’t be spent until the next parliament. Anyone expecting to see an army of workmen wielding shovels on the streets tomorrow is likely to be disappointed.”
Business leaders said the plans would do nothing to solve the immediate shortfall in road financing and urged ministers to revive stalled plans to privatise the motorway network and trunk roads.
“Ministers can’t ignore the current £8bn funding shortfall. It has to be tackled and only private investment can fill the void,” said Rhian Kelly, director for business environment at the CBI. “We need a radical overhaul in how the UK pays for and manages the road network, instead of relying on ever-tighter public finances.”