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Road projects face axe by Highway Agency review - Major widening schemes to be replaced by traffic management

Major Highways Agency roads schemes have been put on hold while an independent project costs review is conducted, NCE has learned. Industry sources are now speculating that the latest hiatus will precede the cancellation of several of major widening projects.
It is feared they will be replaced with cheaper technology-based traffic management schemes.
Contractors and consultants told NCE this week that they were already feeling the effects of the latest cost review on a number of major schemes.

Delays have already hindered progress on schemes to the tune of millions of pounds in fees.
“There is a lot of discussion in the industry at the moment about major jobs that seem to have been put back,” one contractor told NCE. He pointed to two major schemes that had been expected to start on site had been delayed.

He added that there were a number of other schemes where expectations that preferred bidders would be appointed had failed to materialise.

“Someone (at the Highways Agency) seems to have said: ‘ we are not going to spend any money until we have reviewed all our numbers and found out what we can afford to spend.’”

It is understood that the Highways Agency will only move forward again on major schemes in October once its latest review is completed.

The reported delays come after an independent review of the Agency’s approach to cost estimates and project management recommended changes to the way it assessed the cost of schemes.
The current project costs review comes just six months after the Nichols Review into the Agency’s delivery of major projects (NCE 22 March).

It concluded that the Agency had lost control of its cost estimates and lacked the commercial programme management expertise to deliver a multi-billion pound programme.

Chief executive Archie Robertson took on personal responsibility for delivery of this programme after the departure of head of procurement Steve Rowsell and major projects director Keith Miller.

This week one consultant told NCE that he feared this latest review would lead to the cancellation of millions of pounds of proposed trunk road and motorway widening projects in favour of projects to manage the routes better using Active Traffic Management (ATM).

The Highways Agency confirmed that it was carrying out a cost review of its projects. But it pointed out that this was in line with the Nichols Review recommendations.

“Implementing the Nichols recommendations will be a priority for this year and a dedicated team has been established within Major Projects Directorate to take them forward. Good progress is being made,” said a spokeswoman.

“We expect to complete seven major road improvements and start work on eight others this year.

“This will achieve the Agency’s target to open at least 23 major schemes between April 2005 and March 2008.”

The spokeswoman said no decision had yet been made on whether to extend Active Traffic Management (ATM) across the network.

“It is expected that the Secretary of State will publish a more detailed response to the Eddington report [on government transport policy] alongside the Comprehensive Spending Review later this year and funding and priorities for the roads programme will be reviewed in that context.”

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