Managed Motorway Schemes
4 managed motorway projects involving use of the hard-shoulder are currently May 2013) fully operational: 2 on the M6, one on the M42 and 1 on the M1. The Highways Agency has another three managed motorway schemes in construction; these are the M62 Junction 25-30 (completion late 2013); the M4 Junction 19-20 and M5 Junction 15-17 (spring 2014), and the M6 J5-8 (mid 2014). The M62 will be the biggest scheme so far when it opens in October 2013.
Inquiry completed: decision published in:
Road projects fare well in the Autumn Statement (2012)
Summer 2013. With the economy still flat, plans are being mooted to make the Highways Agency more independent of the government so it can borrow money without increasing the public deficit and potentially ramp up its project portfolio. The Chancellor's Autumn Statement in December 2012 detailed new infrastructure spending and included significant announcements on major national roadbuilding projects including £378 million to finish dualling the A1 as far north as Newcastle, and the progression of a shelved scheme to link the M1 and the A5 with a dual-carriageway.
"Managed motorway" projects remain the favoured approach to increasing motorway capacity, and the Statement contained plans to accelerate the development of existing plans on the M1, M3 and M6. They involve use of the hard-shoulder (rather than new-build widening: in fact since 2008 when the Managed Motorway concept was announced, widening has only occurred on the M25 and in the upgrade of 13.7 miles of the A1 to motorway status [February 2013]). Several large "managed motorway" construction schemes are already underway, and construction of new ones, on the M3 and M6, as well as acceleration of existing projects, on the M1 and M25, was announced in the 2011 Autumn Statement. Britain's 2nd hard-shoulder running project opened on the M6 in Birmingham in November 2009, and at its opening a Transport Minister said 340 miles of "schemes like this" would be delivered by 2015. Following the October 2010 spending review, it was confirmed that managed motorway schemes on the M1, M4, M5, M6, M25, M60 and M62 would go ahead and begin construction by 2015, providing some continuity with the plans of the previous government. A third managed motorway project opened, also on the M6, in spring 2011. The Highways Agency currently [November 2012] has another four managed motorway schemes in construction; these are the M1 Junction 10-13 (expected to open in early 2013); the M62 Junction 25-30 (late 2013); the M4 Junction 19-20 and M5 Junction 15-17 (spring 2014), and the M6 J5-8 (mid 2014). The M62 will be the biggest scheme so far when it opens in October 2013.
Off the motorways but still on nationally managed roads, the Chancellor put major construction on the A14 in Cambridgeshire back on the agenda; it is likely to be more piecemeal than the approach in the plans dropped by the government in 2010 as "simply unaffordable". Dualling of the A453 from Nottingham to the M1 and local airport was also confirmed. Among major local projects given the go-ahead were the Kingskerswell Bypass in Devon and the Lincoln Eastern Bypass. A further announcement in December 2011 saw funding for the huge Norwich Northern Distributor Road and the Morpeth Bypass among several confirmed. In Scotland in June 2012, the SNP added to expensive road schemes already being planned or built by bringing forward by 2 years to 2015 £3 billion plans to dual 80 miles of the A9.
With the Conservatives mid-term and many of the projects in their 1989 Roads for Prosperity White Paper being revived, it's a good time to step back to 1997 when they last lost power and Labour called off most of the road schemes they had proposed in 1989. Labour's White Paper on integrated transport seemed to confirm a move towards alternative solutions to congestion. It faced, however, a backlash from motoring lobby groups like the AA and the freight industry, and business interests like the CBI and Regional Development Authorities who lobbied more effectively than in the 90s. Afraid also of losing favour with some of the press, who quickly depicted Labour as anti-motorist and mounted an effective support campaign for the fuel protests, they retreated without much of a rearguard action, and in July 2000 announced major road building plans at all levels. While a stage had been set that broadly determined policy for the next 5 years or so, Labour were never quite as gung-ho as the Conservatives had been in the 90s, and detrunking and changes to local and regional planning frameworks probably slowed things down just as new environmental concerns and latterly economic factors were coming to prominence.
Nonetheless, for a time in the credit-easy early years of the Millenium, brand new or widened motorways were very much on the agenda. The most notorious was the M6 Expressway (new parallel motorway from Manchester to Birmingham with enormous cost estimates). The plan was finally dropped on July 20 2006, initially in favour of widening. However such has been the meteoric rise of hard-shoulder running plans that in December 2009 the Highways Agency confirmed that "no sections of M6 Junctions 10a to 19 [Manchester to Birmingham] are proposed for widening", and advance work began to upgrade 40 miles of hard-shoulder between these junctions in September 2009. (An additional Managed Motorway project was added in the 2011 Autumn Statement.) With long-running plans for a new 14 mile toll motorway south of the exciting M4 between Cardiff and Newport abandoned in July 2009 as costs spiralled to £1 billion, further parallel motorway proposals seem unlikely for the time being, despite finding favour with Roads Minister Stephen Hammond, who floated the idea of a new motorway along the south coast in a fringe meeting in October 2012.
With public spending under such close scrutiny, the question of how much roads cost has never been more relevant. In August 2011, the Highways Agency estimated an average of £30 million per mile for a new rural 3-lane motorway, adding "the costs of building roads are not significantly different from 2006". The figure is very much theoretical, though, since the last brand new motorway built was the M6 Toll in 2003, and of course the sum varies wildly depending on topography, number of bridges and so on. In Scotland, where upgrades to the motorway network in the Central Belt, including upgrading of 6 miles of the A8 to motorway standard, begin in late 2013, costs were estimated at £415 million in March 2012, up from £320 million in December 2010. However, the figures for improving existing motorways are equallly relevant, since this is where the emphasis currently lies. A scheme to upgrade 12 miles of the A1 to motorway standard planned to start in early 2014 has a cost estimate of £314 million [April 2013]. The proposed budget for the A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton improvement rose from £490 million in 2005 to £1,286 million in July 2010. Following the spending review in late 2010, the scheme was withdrawn, the Highways Agency described it as "simply unaffordable", a phrase memorable for its unusual simplicity. A trend for costs to be upwardly adjusted as a project progressed through the planning process was noted in March 2007 by the Nichols Report, which also pointed to frequent further cost overruns when it came to actual construction. The Highways Agency has recently (May 2013) become more consistent in including the estimated cost of projects in the scheme details on its website. The estimates are, however, in the form of a range which can be of significant width. The estimated cost of a Managed Motorway upgrade to the M6 starting in 2014, for instance, is from £140 million to £201 million
2 major M25 widening schemes opened before the Olympic Games. They are among a list of 28 projects in the 2012-13 Business Plan that should be either complete or under construction by early 2015.
One might ask how major projects arise. The schemes discussed so far, with the exception of the M4 in Wales, all fall into the Highways Agency's Programme of Major Schemes. This is the name, post-Nichols Report [March 2007] for a set of schemes known formerly as the Targeted Programme of Improvements (TPI). The Programme of Major Schemes comprises current or planned motorway and trunk road schemes costing over £5 million. Many schemes in the TPI, now in the Programme, entered following recommendations of the 33 government commissioned Multi-Modal and Roads-Based studies which from 1998 looked at and reported back on transport issues along particular strategic corridors. In some cases the corridor was large, for example the south coast from Ramsgate to Southampton, in others quite short, for example the stretch from the M1 to the centre of Nottingham. It's argued the composition of their steering groups created a headstart for roads-based solutions; most of the multimodal studies recommended major road building in their final reports published from late 2001. Further research has made some of these recommendations look questionable: in late 2005, for example, the Department for Transport contradicted the London - South Midlands Study by announcing that widening of the M11 near Stansted would not be needed until 2021 at the earliest.
Outside the trunk road network, roads arise through the efforts of local authorities (who bid for funds from central government). In Transport 2010, the 10 year plan unveiled in July 2000, the government anticipated building 100 bypasses and 130 major local road schemes by 2010. Those numbers were not realised: the bypass figure, for instance, was closer to 60 at the end of 2010 (there is some ambiguity in the term "bypass", though). The 2010 spending review confirmed support for a small number of local authority major project proposals, notably the large Heysham to M6 Link Road . A much larger number were invited by the DfT to compete against each other for funding by submitting a "best and final" bid for a share of £630 million. The Chancellor's Autumn 2011 Statement, though, announced that money would be made available for all these projects. More air travel has generated longstanding aspirations among some local authorities for new link roads or major upgrades: in July 2012, work will begin on a £32 million scheme to improve roads around Birmingham airport to prepare for a longer runway. In September 2011, a new link road to Southend Airport opened, the Chancellor's Autumn Statement in 2011 announced funding for a major new dual carriageway from near Manchester Airport to near Stockport and construction of a link road between Doncaster airport and the M18 will begin in winter 2012.
Councils and local and national business interests promote new road river crossings too, and this has been an area of notably mixed fortunes over the last decade. A new £500 million road bridge for East London was proposed in 2004; a public inquiry recommended against it in 2007 and it was formally dropped in 2008. Plans for a fixed crossing at the proposed point were revived, however, by Boris Johnson in 2011. Planning times for such projects have traditionally been long. In March 2006 (then Secretary of State for Transport) Alastair Darling confirmed government funding for a new £589 million [October 2011] 1km 6 lane toll bridge between Runcorn and Widnes. The bridge will be a 3-towered cable-stay design:
The proposed bridge reached public inquiry stage in May 2009; the inspector's report remains unpublished [May 2010], but it was confirmed in October 2010 that the bridge had survived the comprehensive public spending review of that month. In October 2011, the government finally confirmed it was willing to provide the majority of funding, and work should start by the end of 2013, with the bridge opening in 2016.
A second tunnel under the Tyne was completed in February 2011; as a toll tunnel, the private operators will have an interest in increasing traffic levels. A new road bridge in Sunderland also received planning permission in April 2010. The priciest bridge proposal of the lot, though is in Scotland, where MSPs voted for a new Forth Bridge in Scotland when the Forth Crossing Bill came before parliament for a final time in December 2010, plans to try to dry out the cabling and try to make do with the existing one having proved unpopular as a byelection issue in Fife in February 2006. The cost of the new bridge is estimated at between £1.7 billion and £2.3 billion. The major phase of construction began in June 2012 with the sinking into the river bed of foundations for one of the 3 towers.. Also with potential for huge public expenditure, in April 2009 a report produced for the DfT recommended a new Thames crossing at Dartford.
What's changed since the early / mid 90s? For a start, since 1998 hundreds of miles of "non-core" roads, including some motorways, have been detrunked: responsibility for their development passes from central government in the guise of the Highways Agency to the local transport authority: that is, normally, the city or county council (applies to England outside London). In theory, this should provide better opportunities for integration of transport at a local and regional level. In March 2009, the detrunking programme was completed, with over 3,083 kms detrunked.
Detrunking has made it more important to understand the regional and local planning framework. In 2011, however, this is once again in turmoil following the revocation of Regional Spatial Strategies which had been the major planning document since 2004. The bodies which drew up these Strategies, the 8 regional assemblies, and latterly the Local Authority Leaders' boards, were abolished in June 2010. They were, in April 2012, along with Regional Development Agencies, replaced in England by 39 Local Enterprise Partnerships consisting of groups of local authorities working with businesses. The onus was on groups of authorities to organise themselves into LEPs; some authorities are in more than one LEP. However under legislation called the "Localism Bill" currently  progressing through the necessary parliamentary stages, regional planning will factor far less than before, while planning at council and even neighbourhood level will be strengthened.
The Local Transport Plan (LTP), the primary way in which policy is set at local authority level, looks set to survive the changes, but outside of its former regional context set by the RSS. From 1998, local authorities were required to produce these documents every 5 years for submission to the Department of Transport. They detailed how the authority would deliver national and regional government's transport objectives and were, among other things, a bidding document for government funds. In April 2011, English authorities saw their LTP3s come into effect. There are however significant changes in this third LTP iteration: two documents are required, a 15 to 20 year strategy document, and shorter implementation plans of a duration left up to the authority. It's difficult to generalise about LTPs, but there is no doubt that they have allowed local authorities to keep many significant local road schemes on the agenda, for example the Norwich Northern Bypass and the Hastings - Bexhill Link Road. (Funding for the Norwich road was confirmed in December 2011; funding for the Hastings and Bexhill road was finally approved in the March 2012 Budget. In December 2012 the cost is put at £85.916 million)
The RFA2 prioritisation feedback in July 2009 confirmed funding for Manchester and Birmingham tram extensions. (There was more news on trams in October 2010 with Nottingham's and Birmingham's extensions surviving the Spending Review.)
Also coming out of 2004 legislation was the requirement on the 8 regions outside London to bring together major local transport schemes (costing at least Ã‚Â£5million) with certain Highways Agency Programme of Major Schemes projects (on roads often referred to as roads of regional importance) in a prioritisation process. This was based on a projected sum of money set out in July 2005 known as the Regional Funding Allocation for Transport which was intended to give an idea of regional budgets until 2015/16. The prioritisation process has perhaps acted as a brake on the progression of road schemes, in that Highways Agency schemes on roads of regional importance that were not prioritised were then placed "On Hold". The second round of RFA submissions was completed in February 2009. This time some smaller schemes were included in the process; the Highways Agency schemes to be included essentially stayed the same. However in October 2010, a DfT Press Notice indicated RFA's days were numbered; national government now expects consortia of local councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships to take decisions on projects worth more than £5 million.
The announcement of the abolition of the Infrastructure Planning Commission in June 2010 after just one year of operation is of potential relevance to large LTP (and other) schemes. The Commission was designed to speed up the planning process for major infrastructure developments such as roads by replacing public inquiries with a decision by a panel of experts. Its abolition means decision-making will revert to Ministers. A National Planning Policy Framework was published in March 2012, and emphasises "a presumption in favour of sustainable development that is the basis for every plan, and every decision", which appears to give planners who work out how to tick the sustainability boxes a very green light indeed.
It's clear that proponents of new roads have become more sophisticated since the 90s. The New Approach to Appraisal (NATA), introduced by the government in 1998, means trunk and local road schemes have to be appraised against environment, safety, economy, accessibility and integration factors before a government decision on funding is made. This has made councils and the Highways Agency more aware of the need to work mitigating factors into their plans. Route Management Strategies, commissioned by the Highways Agency, are careful to put impact on wildlife and the environment at the top of their intended Route Outcomes. Multi-modal studies are happy to talk about buses, rail, trams, cycling and walking. Councils soften the blow of a new bypass by talking about it being part of a range of transport measures designed to provide solutions.
The coming years promise to be interesting ones as the budget deficit dominates decisions. Road traffic levels appear, under the pressure of rising fuel costs, to have entered a period of relative stability or even decline (measured by some metrics), and the general clamour for new roads appears less than it was. The bigger decisions set to dominate debate seem to be those involving public transport infrastructure such as railways and airports.
Newbury Weekly News, 4 November 2004:
"The best solution [to peaktime motorway congestion] is to carry on widening motorways: Paul Watters, AA, March 2008.
Cost of M1 widening work in progress or in preparation in March 2007: £5.1 billion. Cost of proposal to remove national rail bottleneck at Reading station and improve journey times for 30 million passengers a year: £80 million. [July 2006.]