A £45bn a year programme of new road and tunnel construction funded by national road user charging scheme is vital to avoid a UK congestion crisis over the next 30 years, according to a report by the RAC Foundation this week.
The report by Professor Stephen Glaister of London's Imperial College highlights a legacy of "dysfunctional" road investment and proposes dumping fuel tax in favour of a blanket 14% carbon tax at the pump, plus national road user charging to fund investment.
"Official forecasts show population will grow by 11% in the next 30 years, mostly in the south, east and London, in the areas where the roads are already full," said Glaister. He proposed the setting up an independent National Roads Corporation to deliver a threefold increase in road building.
The new body would be funded by road user charging which could generate up to £80bn a year. Even after deducting £30bn in lost fuel duty and £4.5bn a year to administer the scheme, g £45.5bn would be available each year to spend on roads.
The road user charging scheme, he said, would vary according to regional congestion. "We used regional values of time savings, with the highest values in London," said Glaister, the report's lead author.
"The principle is that the road user pays costs at all times."
The authors examined a range of solutions, from congestion charging alone to ramping up road building alone, and combinations of the two approaches.
"It is economically justified to invest at least 600 lane km per year, with or without pricing," said Glaister. This represents a threefold increase on current programmes. He added: "In the mid-1970s, tax revenue from road users was broadly in line with expenditure. This has been dropping."
The research did not examine specific schemes, but proposed a series of possible routes that could be addressed (see map) and in particular highlight the need for more tunnels.
"We do not tend to put roads into tunnels, but we have just put Crossrail into a tunnel, and benefits of tunnels are enormous," said Glaister, pointing out that experience from the recent High Speed 1 project would be vital.
According to the research congestion will be a significant deterrent to driving by 2041 and there is a high level of return on investment in transport in general, and roads in particular.
"Road pricing is definitely a good thing to do – it is the best intervention," said Glaister. "But it is terribly difficult to persuade people of the benefits. You have to think of ways to give back, so you offer capacity at the same time."
AVERAGE ROAD USER HARGE PER KM
9p in the North, West, Wales and Scotland
11p in the South and East
21p in provincial cities
40p in London
£80bn Will be generated by road charging. Of this: Ł30bn will cover cuts in fuel tax which will be lowered to 14%. £4.5bn will cover scheme administration costs. The remaining Ł45.5bn will go on road building and funding road-related health and safety projects.