TRANSPORT MINISTER Lord MacDonald this week confirmed that the Government is planning a major boost in road spending this summer.
Speaking to NCE this week, MacDonald refused to confirm details of the 10-year transport investment plan, due out in the summer, but said road building would be a priority.
He said: 'We are looking at bringing forward extra road improvement schemes. We intend to invest money in roads as well as public transport - both are vital to a modern transport system.'
MacDonald's comments came as a further boost to the UK roads market which is recovering after New Labour's initial budget slashing. New figures from the Department of the Environment Transport and the Regions show that road orders of £324M from January to March are 32% higher than in the same period last year.
Government sources have confirmed that a clutch of schemes shelved by the Government in the 1998 Roads Review are being discussed again. These include projects to widen parts of the M1 and the M6 plus numerous other local bypass schemes.
Sources at Westminster also confirmed this week that two sections of the proposed Salisbury Bypass, which was cancelled in 1997, were under discussion again. This project is expected to be worth between £65M and £100M.
The Highways Agency is also known to be working with the DETR towards accelerating schemes on the Government's Targeted Programme of Improvements.
Professor of Transport Infrastructure at Imperial College Stephen Glaister said that schemes such as motorway widenings were particularly attractive to the Treasury.
He said: 'Costs presented to DETR for road schemes, even under the New Approach to Appraisal, which includes environmental criteria, have very high rates of economic return.'
But there have also been signs in industry that road construction workload is set to pick up.
New Parkman chief executive Richard Archer said this week it had been approached to develop some new road building proposals and predicted major road schemes would be pushed forward in the London area.
MVA chief executive Martin Richards also predicted that some widening schemes could be given the go ahead before the multi-modal transport assessment studies, initiated in the 98 Review, are completed.
He said: 'It's always been likely that multi-modal studies would come up with new-build projects. Widening schemes are economically efficient and easy to progress, with no public inquiry needed.'
However, a DETR spokesman insisted this week that it was still too early to name specific road schemes because discussions between the Treasury and DETR were still ongoing before the Government's three-year Comprehensive Spending Review, due to be published in July.