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How do we pay for vital trunk road expansion

David Bayliss OBE FCILT, the well-known former Chief Transport Planner for the GLC – and closely involved in the construction of the DLR, the Jubilee Line extension and the Croydon tramlink – has delivered a hard-hitting CILT lecture on the realities facing our trunk road network, to mark 50 years of British motorways.

David, a joint author of the RAC Foundation’s influential ‘Motoring Towards 2050 – Roads and Reality’ report, told a prestigious audience of leading transport planners, that only a significant new policy such as national road charging will be able to cut jams and pay for new trunk roads to enable Britain to catch up with other major European counties.

He revealed that of the major European countries, Britain ranks 22nd out of 27 for motorway miles in relation to population. This puts us at an economic disadvantage.

David said that current practises such as active traffic management on motorways can only have limited results, and that even plans for improved railways and HS2 will only give limited relief to our road network. HS2, he claimed, will only lead to a 1½ % reduction in road traffic.

Funding could be raised by increasing fuel duty – and the income from this would have to be seen to be ring fenced to ensure it was spent only on roads. But he argued that politicians have not always been consistent in keeping such pledges, and that the public no longer believed such promises. He also stressed: ‘The promotion of walking and cycling will only have limited effect.’

Presenting all the pros and cons for a national road charging scheme he said road charging and increased capacity are effective partners and we need both to ensure our roads keep moving.

‘We have not been predicting and providing’, d David. Road charging could lead to reduces congestion, 15% lower carbon emissions and net benefits of up to £10billion a year. National road charging will add capacity and, in the long term maintain mobility on our major roads.

He conceded that it would lead to substantial reduction in travel at first – significantly in leisure travel such as visiting friends and family – which currently accounts for 60% of long distance travel. Such a move, though greatly benefiting businesses, would be electorally unpopular, he conceded, as it would impact on people’s lives.

However he warned that we are running out of other options. ‘The scope for a switch to rail is limited for freight due to the congestion caused by increased passenger growth,’ he said. He pointed out that our trunk road network is still smaller than our rail network and that we currently spend only a ¼ of the amount we were spending in the 1970s on new roads.

The lecture was followed by a fascinating Q&A session chaired by CILT Chief Executive Steve Agg FCILT. During the session Professor David Quarmby FCILT of the RAC Foundation asked what effect the income in fuel tax reduction caused by the drop in leisure traffic would have if road charging was introduced? David argued in response that the income from road pricing would be greater than that just displaced.

Chairman of the Institute’s Road Capacity & Charging Forum, Jim Coates FCILT led the thanks at the end of the event. He summed up with the thought that, for all the faults of the current system, 50 years after their introduction, where would we be without our motorway network?

A copy of David’s presentation can be found on the Institute’s web site.

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