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Roads to Nowhere

Third runway equals transport chaos

Stephen Joseph's picture

30 September 2013: One of the most pressing, but least considered, problems when proposals are made to expand Heathrow is that of surface transport to and from the airport.

Heathrow sits in the most congested quadrant of London. The roads around Heathrow are already full and journey times are getting longer. So much so that the Department for Transport has said that it’s likely to need to take action to relieve congestion due to traffic growth regardless of what happens at the airport. The Piccadilly Line, which provides most of the public transport capacity to Heathrow, is already one of the most crowded on the underground. Even with the 25 per cent capacity increase planned for the line it will be swamped within seven years by a 50 per cent growth in demand for underground services due to population growth. And that’s without carrying a single extra passenger to the airport.

Even if you include Crossrail, it is clear that public transport will not have the capacity to accommodate the extra demand that Heathrow Airport envisages from a third runway - 40 per cent more passengers by 2030 and nearly double that by 2040 - and additional pressure will therefore be placed on the roads.

This week we released a report called Heathrow and Surface Transport Stress. It showed that current airport expansion proposals have consistently failed to give enough importance to road and public transport access. It also uncovered a lack of research comparing the anticipated economic benefits of expanding Heathrow against the range of negative transport impacts it would create.

The Airports Commission in examining the case for expansion at Heathrow must acknowledge surface access as a major barrier and insist that the surface transport implications of airport expansion are properly considered before any decision on the airport’s future is made.

It's clear that without measures to tackle surface access, an additional runway at Heathrow Airport would cause widespread transport chaos. Increasing surface transport capacity would be extremely difficult, highly controversial and hugely expensive, but it should be central to whether a third runway is desirable, affordable or feasible.