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Roads to Nowhere

Government reports show roads building is poor value for money

18 January 2010
The claimed benefits of new roads don’t work out in practice and some roads actually create new problems, according to research for the Highways Agency unearthed by Campaign for Better Transport [1]. The findings cast major doubts on the value for money of road building and coincide with warnings from the Department for Transport that regional authorities should expect substantial cuts in their transport budgets.

The Government reports looked at what actually happened after road schemes had been built. The reports found:

 

  • Overall traffic levels rose significantly as a direct result of each new road
  • Economic forecasts did not reflect the actual impact on local businesses and any benefits were generally lower than predicted
  • CO2 emissions were higher than predicted, as were noise levels. Air quality was worse than forecast
  • Walking, cycling and public transport did not improve, even where traffic has decreased on local roads
  • Two-thirds of the bypasses studied simply moved congestion elsewhere

Richard George, roads and climate campaigner for the Campaign for Better Transport, said:
 
"These reports should set off alarm bells for anyone contemplating major road building and for taxpayers who will eventually have to pay for them. In difficult economic times, taxpayers must know that their money is being well spent. Instead, they’re being fobbed off with half-baked calculations which are little better than guesswork. The Government cannot justify spending over £1 billion a year on road projects which their own reports show aren’t solving people’s transport problems."

 

He added,
 
"It’s time for a moratorium on new road building until the Highways Agency can show us what we’ll get for our money. Instead, let’s spend money on smaller scale, excellent value for money projects which can really help to tackle transport problems now."

Notes to editors
[1] The Highways Agency has an ongoing programme of reviewing past trunk road projects, one year and five years after they opened, to see how accurate the original traffic, economic and environmental forecasts were.
 
In The Highways Agency’s billion pound traffic gamble (pdf), Campaign for Better Transport looked at the four most recent ‘five year after’ Post Opening Project Evaluation (POPE) reports: the A6 Great Glen Bypass, the A650 Bingley Relief Road, the A11 Roundham Heath to Attleborough and the A27 Polegate Bypass. We also examined a report by Atkins, commissioned by the Highways Agency, which summarised 28 of their ‘one year after’ POPE reports.
 
The POPE reports are available on request from the Highways Agency.