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Major new schemes mooted in new government vision for strategic road network

Ministers are drawing up plans for a series of major new road schemes including a Trans-Pennine tunnel, a new dual-carriageway link between Oxford and Cambridge and a revamp of the M25 around Heathrow.

The plans will be worked up as part of a vision for England’s road network up to 2040, the government has revealed.

Strategic studies to tackle gaps in England’s Strategic Road Network are to be a major focus of the government-owned company (go-co) that will evolve from the Highways Agency next spring.

That is on top of its core role of delivering some 127 major road schemes that the government has identified for progression in the five year period up to 2020/21.

The plans are detailed in a Road Investment Strategy, launched by roads minister John Hayes this week.

It sets out how go-co will spend the £15.7bn, five-year investment originally promised in the 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review.

The investment covers a claimed 83 “wholly new” schemes including a £1bn-plus, 2.9km long tunnel beneath Stonehenge that will see the dualling of the whole of the A303/A358 as far as Taunton in the South West.

Other significant new schemes include a new dual carriageway bypass of Arundel on the A27 along the South coast and work to double the length of continuous dual carriageway on the A1 to the North of Newcastle to 53km.

Investment is also focused around extending the Smart Motorway network – with four new schemes worth £1bn-plus added to those already announced – and around plans to bring the busiest A roads up to motorway standard (see box, below).

The Department for Transport said it the strategic studies looking at potential future schemes could be controversial. But by taking a strategic, spatial view of the network it has identified several gaps that it believes warrant serious study.

Six strategic studies will be launched, with two certain to prompt debate.

The first will investigate the case for linking up existing roads and creating an Oxford to Cambridge Expressway, running via Bedford and Milton Keynes. The route would make use of existing dual carriageway on the A421 and A428, and soon to begin work will complete the dualling of the Cambridge to Milton Keynes leg. But the Milton Keynes to Oxford section will require greenfield construction of a 40km long section of new road through Buckinghamshire.

The second seeks to support chancellor George Osborne’s aspiration for a Northern Powerhouse by investigating the case for a Trans-Pennine tunnel to transform connectivity in the north.

The other studies are less controversial. One will decide whether to upgrade the A69 or A66 to motorway standard, also across the Pennines. One will focus on whether the A1 south of Peterborough should be upgraded, possibly to full motorway standard. Another will look at ways to tackle chronic capacity issues on the busiest section of the M25 between the M4 and M3 interchanges. And there will be a strategic study of the M60 Manchester Orbital to ensure it can handle further development of the North’s biggest city.

A roads to become Expressways

England’s busiest A roads are to be turned into Expressways with fully grade separated junctions and consistent standards that match those of motorways, government has announced.

An initial 12 roads are to be raised to Expressway standard through schemes worth a combined £4bn.

The new approach will be pioneered on two major corridors in the South West – the A30 in Devon and Cornwall and the A303/A358 in Wiltshire and Somerset.

The £1bn-plus A303 Stonehenge tunnel is the biggest piece of work on this corridor. On the A303/A358 this will be supplemented with improvements on the A303 at Sparkford and A358 near Taunton, which together will bring the route up to Expressway standard over the next 14 years.

Work on the A30 will begin imminently to dual the single carriageway section at Temple, and the commitment in the Road Investment Strategy is for further dualling at Carland Cross in Cornwall. Once complete this will create a continuous Expressway link all the way from the M3 in Hampshire to Camborne, 24km from Lands End.

Innovation in highway design and delivery is for the first time to be ring-fenced, with a series of funds targeting key areas for research and development.

These include a £300M Environment fund, a £150M Innovation Fund, a £100M Air Quality Fund and a £100M Growth and Housing Fund.

Within those funds there will be £40M set aside to support the development of driverless and co-operative vehicle technologies, and a £75M investment in noise barriers and allied improvements to reduce the number of people affected by noise by up to 250,000. This is in addition to a £6bn commitment announced in the 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review to resurface 80% of the network with lower noise surfaces. There will also be £70M spent on improving the resilience of the network and reduce flooding risks in neighbouring communities

What is the Road Investment Strategy and is it new cash?

The Department for Transport is at pains to stress that this is not new cash. The Road Investment Strategy sets out how the government-owned company (go-co) that will replace the Highways Agency will spend the £15bn, five-year investment promised in the 2013 Comprehensive Spending Review. It also sets out a vision for how the network will evolve up to 2040.

The strategy will be equivalent to the High Level Output Specification set by government for Network Rail and will be adopted by the go-co when the Infrastructure Bill passes through Parliament next year.

It therefore includes a performance specification against which the go-co will be assessed. High level outcomes include a 40% reduction in the number of people killed or seriously injured on the network and an overall customer satisfaction score of at least 90% as measured through the newly established National Road Users’ Satisfaction Survey. The go-co will be expected to ensure network availability stands at 97% and that 85%of motorway incidents will be cleared within one hour. The go-co will also be expected to work well with the supply chain to show how it is delivering the investment plan in a timely and efficient manner that saves£1.2bn across the five years of the programme.

 

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