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DfT Road Investment strategy promises to exploit technological advances such as personalised data, driverless and co-operative vehicle tech

1 December 2014 - Further details of the Government’s £15 billion plan to triple levels of spending by the end of the decade to increase the capacity and condition of England’s roads, was announced to Parliament today by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander.

These announcements came alongside publication, for the first time, by The Department for Transport of a ‘Road investment strategy’, addressing the stated £2 billion yearly costs due to congestion - that if no action is taken is projected to rise to £10 billion by 2040.

Today’s announcements mean a total 127 major road schemes are to ‘come forward in this road period’, resulting in over 1,300 additional lane miles on motorways and trunk roads, all intended to save 46 million hours of time lost in traffic every year by 2030.

There will be, however, some smaller funds set aside to address issues not just to do with dealing with congestion but to make a “better network”, such a ‘New vehicle technology investment fund’, as well as some for landscaping, noise abatement, bio-diversity.

The strategy also envisions provision of ‘personalised and predictive travel information leading to improved journeys at more reliable speeds’, plus the successor to the Highways Agency will be expected to consider customers’ needs across the transport modes.


The 2015/16 – 2019/20 Road Period

The Road Investment Strategy suite of documents (Strategic Vision, Investment Plan, Performance Specification, and this Overview) are intended to fulfil the requirements of Clause 3 of the Infrastructure Bill 2015 for the 2015/16 – 2019/20 Road Period.

In 2013, as part of the 2013 Spending Round, investments were announced of:

  • Over 400 extra lane miles of Smart Motorways, including a ‘smart spine’ linking London, Birmingham and the North West
  • 54 major roads projects to be built across this Parliament and the next
  • Schemes to improve critical freight routes, such as the £1.5 billion A14 scheme in Cambridgeshire and the M6 in Cheshire
  • £6 billion set aside to resurface 80% of the SRN and keep our network in top condition.

With this RIS, another rounds of investment were made, with 84 wholly new schemes. This includes:

  • £3.5 billion on 20 new schemes that will address some of the most long-standing and notorious network hotspots, including building a tunnel at least 1.8 miles long at Stonehenge and dualling the whole of A303, transforming connectivity to and from the South West
  • £3.7 billion on a further 64 schemes across the length and breadth of the country to improve safety, ease congestion, unlock growth and add nine additional Expressways to the SRN. 49 of these are schemes expected to start construction by 2020.

This means a total of 127 major road schemes will come forward in this Road Period – stated as the largest programme of investment for a generation.


Five Challenges beginning with C

Patrick McLoughlin said, “As we look to the future, the steady increase in population, the need to drive economic growth, the development of new technology and the availability of smart infrastructure will all serve to change what we need from our strategic roads.”

Patrick McLoughlin added that the Road Investment Strategy plans to deal the opportunities and challenges of:

  • Providing certainty, with over £15 billion to be invested in our major roads from 2015/16 – 2020/21
  • Transforming connectivity, through the likes of our commitment to dual the A303 to the South West
  • Increasing capacity, with projects that will deliver over 1,300 additional lane miles
  • Improving the condition of the network, including resurfacing 80% of the SRN
  • Enabling construction and creating jobs, with almost £5 billion invested in 50 schemes that will help connect housing sites, enterprise zones and other industrial developments.


Smart motorways to become the standard

Smart motorways are intended to become ‘the standard’ for the busiest sections of the network by 2040. In addition, the busiest A roads are also to become ‘Expressesways’, provided with improved standards and technology to manage traffic.

The plans to 2020 include £1.5 billion of investment to add an extra lane onto key motorways to turn them into smart motorways, boosting connectivity between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire.

Elsewhere in the document, The Department for Transport said it has announced:

  • Eight new schemes worth over £1.6 billion which, in addition to those already announced, will bring us closer to completing the network’s Smart Motorway core;
  • 12 roads raised to Expressway standard through schemes worth £4 billion.

In addition to upgrading the stretch in Yorkshire to motorway, a new study on the A1 in the East of England will investigate upgrading the road south of Peterborough, possibly to full motorway standard.

As part of increasing capacity, Smart Motorways, which use technology to expand capacity and regulate the flow of traffic, will form the core of the Strategic Road Network (SRN), while the most strategically important A-roads will be upgraded to ‘Expressways’.

Another area where technology is promised to help journeys on the network, is provision of personalised and predictive travel information - “leading to improved journeys at more reliable speeds”.

The strategy also points to intelligent vehicles, which communicate with the infrastructure and each other. The strategy document states that the government “will look to capitalise on their momentum to deliver a network that can fully exploit technological advances”.


Creating a better network, and connecting with other modes

The Road Investment Strategy states that the government is “committed to creating a better network” - not just for drivers. It has therefore established a series of investments funds, ring-fenced, for Noise (£75m), Cycling (£100m), Carbon, Flooding and water (£70 million) plus Landscape, heritage and biodiversity (£100m).

It also promises £40 million to support the development of driverless and co-operative vehicle technologies, under a ‘New vehicle technology investment fund’.

Customers’ needs across the transport modes will also be required to be considered by the successor to the Highways Agency; it will be expected to work with other entities, such as Local Authorities, to link with local and strategic roads, and with Network Rail to support the likes of sustainable rail freight.

The future version of the Highways Agency, that will be being reformed into a government-owned Strategic Highways Company (or as described in the strategy as ‘the Company’), will be charged with ‘transforming the network during the first and second Road Periods (a RIS covers the duration of a Road Period), through creative, responsive and efficient management of the network, driven by the needs of customers’.

The Company will also take into account customers’ needs across the transport modes. It will work with others, for example with Local Authorities on links between local and strategic roads, and with Network Rail to support the likes of sustainable rail freight.

A Performance Specification describes targets for eight areas where the SRN will be measured, plus performance of the Company over the first Road Period, aimed to focus on the needs of road users and ‘the country’.

‘Key Performance Indicators’ have already been set. A 40% reduction in deaths and serious injuries on the network by the end of 2020 is one target, with the ultimate aim of nobody to be be killed or seriously injured as a result of incidents on the network. A target of 90% customer satisfaction is another target, plus at least 97% of the network is to be kept open for use, and unplanned incidents cleared as quickly as is practicable.

DfT Policy documents


Pre-election sweetener or Black Monday

In reporting of the announcement, the Daily Telegraph reported that two thirds of the schemes where construction work has been given the green light are in Tory and LibDem constituencies, including some of the parties’ most marginal seats.

Opposing the strategy, the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said Roads plan will destroy our precious countryside - cost will mean alternatives cut. Ralph Smyth, transport campaign manager at the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said, “It is not just the swathes that could be cut through our most cherished landscapes. Rural England faces even more cuts after 2016 to buses, cycling and even road maintenance to pay for this huge roads programme. It would become harder to get around without a car, not to mention bumpier to drive one. This is truly a Black Monday for the countryside.”

The Freight Transport Association voiced support for the Roads Investment StrategyMalcolm Bingham, FTA's Head of Road Network Management Policy, said, "FTA believes that this investment announcement has significant benefits for the freight industry in setting improvements to journey reliability. The freight and logistics industry relies upon reliable road infrastructure to ensure that products are moved efficiently and at reasonable cost.”

“Our challenge now is to make sure that these announced schemes are taken forward, and the work that will be inevitable during construction is done with the minimum of disruption.”

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