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Assess the real impact of current spending on roads

Mark Hansford

A new generation of motorway opened this Monday.

Described by the Highways Agency as England’s first “smart motorway”, the 12km stretch of the M25 east of the A1(M) will combine technology and use of the hard shoulder as a permanent running lane to reduce congestion and ease traffic flow, improving the reliability of journeys. It’s the next step up from the managed motorway projects of the last eight years.

The approach has not been without its critics, with many stakeholders including the Police fearing that the approach will lead to an increase in accidents.

But the Agency is adamant that it will not, pointing to research it published in March 2011 that shows accidents have more than halved since hard shoulder running was introduced in 2006 on 16km of the M42 east of Birmingham.

Smart motorways increase capacity and journey time reliability at a significantly reduced cost

And what Agency chief executive Graham Dalton is clear on is that smart motorways increase capacity and journey time reliability at a significantly reduced cost compared to conventional widening.

These factors have real resonance now since the Department for Transport (DfT) successfully made the case for roads investment in the last Comprehensive Spending Review. Investment is going up from £3.3bn in this Parliament to £10.7bn in the next. In return the DfT wants the network operated efficiently and effectively to support and facilitate economic growth.

And the Department is watching progress closely and producing a detailed twice yearly performance report.

I’m really excited that this week NCE is publishing the results of the first performance report, covering progress up to December last year.

It shows at a glance how many schemes there are, where they are, what the delivery progress is and what the investment is that is enabling it to happen.

Then, crucially - as far as the DfT and end-users are concerned - it shows what the outcome is in terms of capacity added, how many lane kilometres and how many extra vehicles the network can handle reliably.

Finally, asset renewal, as it’s not all about adding extra capacity. One of the five outcomes in the DfT’s performance specification is that the network is maintained in a safe and serviceable condition, so it is watching that carefully too. And the numbers are impressive. But don’t take my word for it - take a look for yourself.

We’ll publish the next report, taking us up to the end of June, in early Autumn - and it’ll be great to see how those delivery pie charts have evolved and the lane kilometres added have grown.

As John Martin, Highways Agency project manager on the M25 smart motorway, put it this week: “This really is the start of a new age on England’s motorways.”

He’s right. And it’s great to be a part of it.

  • Mark Hansford is NCE’s interim editor

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