The ABD's response to the Department of Transport's discussion paper on Trunk Road Development.

1. Introduction

England’s Trunk Roads should provide the facility for long distance traffic to make journeys easily, quickly and by reasonably direct routes having regard to geographical constraints. Although Trunk Roads clearly service goods and long-distance coach traffic as well as passenger cars, this response is written from the perspective of the motorist, for whom the Trunk Road network is an essential part of the national infrastructure. In particular it enables the driver to travel on business, earning a living, paying taxes and generally contributing to the economy. It should be remembered that leisure activities, too, make a positive contribution to the economy.

In recent times it has often been implied that motor car users somehow cause unnecessary traffic and that building roads somehow encourages drivers to make journeys just without good reason. This is nonsense, because traffic of all sorts equates to economic activity. To attempt to limit it artificially is to put a strangle hold on the economy: it would be economically damaging.

We believe that Government must recognise that the motor-car is much more than just many people’s preferred means of transport: it is the best and often the only possible means of transport. Therefore a safe and adequate road network must be provided to enable people to use their cars.

The case for the motor car is, in our view, so obvious that it is in danger of going by default. The motor car has liberated the average man and woman in a way which our great-grandparents could not even have dreamed of.

The motor car has transformed all our lives, almost entirely for the better in terms of freedom and mobility, and provided enormous social and economic benefits. In our view there is neither need nor justification for seeking to curb the freedom to use a car, with the inevitable loss of liberty and mobility that that would entail.

The vehicle manufacturing, road transport and related industries have been among the U.K.’s most successful in recent years and now employ 2.3 million people. Exports of motor vehicles and components earned the country £15,370 million in 1995 (three times more than in 1985), and that figure is set to rise rapidly in the coming years. However, those industries need a healthy home market if they are to continue to thrive.

Road user taxation in the U.K. reached £28,300 million in 1996/97, far exceeding the sums spent on road maintenance and construction, providing revenue that could be spent on other services (figs courtesy of British Road Federation).

Any decisions made about the future of Trunk Roads in this country must be made in the context of these facts.

We welcome the opportunity to respond to the Consultation Document. We fear however that future policy regarding the maintenance and extension of the Trunk Road network may be anti-car rather than pro-environment. As it is, the Economist Intelligence Unit reported this year that car sales in western Europe were likely to decline by 300,000 per annum by 2000, and they blame the threat of environmental controls as a major contributory factor.

We believe it is time for the Government to recognise and accept:-

  1. the benefits that the private car brings to our economy and to society;
  2. the concept of universal car ownership;
  3. that the private car must be an integral part of any strategy; and
  4. that freedom of choice must be maintained, and at an affordable price.

2. Trunk Roads

Along with all other forms of transport infrastructure in the UK, England’s Trunk Road network has suffered from decades of chronic under investment. The UK failed to begin construction of a modern road system — in the shape of motorways — until the late 1950s, a quarter of a century behind Germany, the USA and Italy. In the ABD’s view we still have a very long way to go to catch up, and despite current fashions, we believe that further motorway construction in the UK is essential.

Our Trunk Roads are the country’s arteries, carrying most of our national and international trade. The Trunk Road network literally keeps the country moving and has undoubtedly played a key role in allowing the extraordinary growth in our economy and living standards to take place over the last 40 years. The Consultation Document rightly points out that one-third of car traffic and most heavy goods traffic travels on them.

 

International Comparisons — Trunk Road Networks

The UK already has one of the least developed motorway networks in Western Europe, a situation which is likely to deteriorate further during the coming decade, unless a radical change of policy occurs. This failure to invest in a proper, modern highway network will not only impact adversely on the living standards and lifestyles of UK residents, but also on the scope for economic growth and development. This will ultimately undermine the Government’s strategy for reducing unemployment, and cause tax revenue to fall, thus undermining the country’s ability to fund schools hospitals and other social services.

Belgium and the Netherlands, both of which have much less land area than the UK, have 1,666 km and 2,300 km of motorway respectively. Within a few years, even Spain and Portugal will overtake the UK in terms of motorway per 1,000 sq km of land area.

The picture in terms of “National” or “Trunk” roads is no different:-

Even tiny Belgium, with a much smaller land area, has 12, 750 km of National Road.

3. Public Transport

The ABD favours an integration of the Trunk Road system with the public transport system. This could be effected as follows:-

Such connections have in the past been haphazard, with local roads often used to connect to these parking facilities. We believe that the seamless connections are best when planned into the Trunk Road network. Such measures will certainly attract drivers onto Public Transport without the need for coercion would be unpopular, and, in our view, unacceptable.

In rural areas, and (for the most part) on inter-city routes, there can be no substitute for improved roads.

4. A Genuinely Strategic Approach.

England lacks a truly strategic approach to its Trunk Road network. Today, many factors are different from when the London-centric A-road network was developed out of country lanes, coach roads and Roman roads:

Given these factors a new approach to Trunk Roads is required.

Trunk Roads should not be planned from city centre to city centre, but from region to region. The M1 was billed as the “London to Birmingham” motorway; it points to the heart of London in the south and Leeds in the north. That was a mistake. The M1 is successful where it comes within a few miles of cities such as Leicester, Nottingham and Derby, but with limited access points so that it does not become clogged up with local traffic. The M3 to the south coast is better planned. On meeting the M27, traffic is distributed in at least two directions and to several possible exits; it does not dump its whole traffic load into urban Southampton.

A key feature of the Trunk Road network is that it should not attract local traffic which inevitably clogs up the system at peak times. This can be achieved by careful planning of junction positions and the provision of adequate local roads so that “stratification”, the separation of local and trunk traffic is achieved.

However, we would caution against proposals put forward by some for closure of existing access points to motorways at certain times. Many people will have chosen to invest in businesses, to buy homes, or to work in a particular place because a motorway junction is conveniently situated. It would be grossly unjust to restrict access to a motorway in such circumstances.

The Trunk Road network should be so designed that in the event of accidents, roadworks or other temporary constrictions, traffic can take reasonable alternative routes. The availability of alternative routes in a network is termed “redundancy”. A good example is Milton Keynes’ grid-like network of roads where traffic congestion is rare, even at peak times.

The failure to provide reasonable alternative routes around the M25 shows what can happen when redundancy is not provided when strategic new roads are planned. Often criticised for “generating” traffic it is in fact a victim of the absence of alternative routes. Take, for example, the northern quadrant of the M25; there is no comparable east-west dual carriageway within 40 miles to the north . The M25 is overloaded because the roads within twenty miles of it are inadequate for the size of the local population and level of economic activity.

Thus the strategic plan for England’s trunk road network will be grid-like, offering alternative routes to travellers from most locations. This will not consist entirely of new roads, existing roads could be incorporated into the network and progressively upgraded to an all dual-carriageway system with graded junctions (no roundabouts or traffic lights) throughout.

A word of caution is necessary on the use of existing routes. Not all are suitable. Recent years have seen the piecemeal building of bypasses (to an ever-decreasing standard of engineering). Unless this is part of a scheme to upgrade the road generally, it is, at best, only a short term solution, and is likely to prove to be a false economy in the long run.

An example of non-strategic road development is the A12 between the M25 and Colchester. The map reveals that where the Romans built a road straight through Chelmsford and other towns to Colchester, there is now a series of bulging bypasses connected by short straights. A thirty mile journey has been increased to about forty. The road has dangerously sharp curves concealing junctions with short slip roads. The straights are probably little changed from Roman times: they are narrow and bumpy.

As will be seen elsewhere in this report, we recommend that the whole of the A12 from the M25 to Ipswich is upgraded to motorway standard and status, with an extension to Felixstowe. This would link one of England’s busiest ports with the motorway network and stimulate further growth in trade. It would also provide a quick and efficient route for freight traffic, leading direct to the port. The target, ultimate standard for all trunk roads should be three-lane motorway-standard, graded to permit high levels of speed, safety and environmental protection (see later note). As was done at Milton Keynes, these roads might be built as single carriageways at first and upgraded to dual carriageway, then motorway later. But the initial planning, grading and bridge building would all ultimately accommodate the three lane motorway-standard road.

An example of how not to do it is the A14. A glance at the map shows that the M6-A14 is a pivotal highway not just for England but for the UK and Europe. Yet at the junction with the M1, traffic is forced to negotiate two mini-roundabouts! The A14 itself has been built to a low standard with sharp curves, steep hills and cramped junctions with single-lane slip roads. Worst of all, the cuttings and bridges have not been engineered to allow for the easy upgrading to the three-lane motorway which is already required.

This is the kind of cheapskate short-termism for which the next generation will curse us.

Summary of the Strategic Approach to the Trunk Road Network

The key points of this section are as follows:

5. Environmental Improvements

We believe that road building, if properly planned, can enhance the environment.

Bypasses, in particular, help the environment in towns. The country’s motorway network has transformed the lives of all those who live in the towns that they bypassed, and along the old “A” roads that used to take their traffic. At the same time, they have brought economic development and prosperity to the towns they serve.

Contrary to the impression sometimes given in the Press, bypasses are rarely unpopular — except with a vociferous minority of people who seem to resent all progress.

A recent study for the Transport Research Laboratory by the RAC Foundation for Motoring and the Environment on the effects of the Okehampton bypass indicated that 80% of local people thought that, overall, the bypass was “a good thing” for Okehampton. It indicated a reduction in traffic levels in the town, and that most thought it blended well with the landscape. There was dismay at the cancellation of the Salisbury bypass project among many locals, and MP Robert Key fought and won the May election campaign on a pro-bypass ticket. The result is that the city will now suffer many more years of heavy traffic until the decision is eventually reversed.

The Highways Agency (and the Department of Transport before it) have been exemplary in their tree planting programmes along Britain’s Trunk Roads — planting more broad-leaved trees than the Forestry Commission.

We would like to see even more effort made in this context. The Batheaston by-pass has been built to an “urban” specification in an attempt to reduce its impact. We believe that, in the long term, this was exactly the wrong strategy. It would have been better to build it wider, with more graded slopes (rather than concrete walls), and with a wider green central reservation. In the short term, the “gash” in the countryside would have been greater, but there would have been much more scope for planting of trees. In the medium to long term, the trees would effectively hide the road from many angles and soften its impact.

 

We would like to see:-

  • even more tree and shrub planting along road sides (with barriers or other suitable protection to prevent vehicle collisions with trees);
  • creepers such as Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus), Russian Vine (Polygonum) and Ivy (Hedera) planted along the concrete walls and wooden fences that bound some motorways and other main roads. In urban areas, especially, the creepers would reduce the visual impact of retaining walls and of the walls and fences erected as noise barriers. These species named are planted widely along German Autobahns;
  • wider central reservations on future motorways, and when reconstructing existing ones. This would leave room for tree planting.

    This is done in several Continental countries and brings a number of benefits:-

    1. the road is less intrusive in the environment
    2. the trees absorb pollution and form a green “lung”
    3. the trees act as a noise barrier
    4. driving along the road is a pleasanter experience
    5. road safety benefits, including the elimination of “rubber-necking” (the practice of drivers slowing down to view incidents on the other carriageway)

    6. Finance

    The ABD believes that the Government should make more use of the subsidy available from road users to finance a transport system fit for the 21st Century. Road users contributed £28,300 million in 1996, whilst only £5450 million was spent on road construction.

    The ABD believes that the income from the Road Fund Licence should be ring-fenced for the purpose it was intended, and paid to the Highways Agency for road maintenance, construction and improvement. The income from the Road Fund Licence in 1996/97 amounted to £4,300 million, whereas only £2,013 million was spent on Trunk Roads. It is generally acknowledged that the standard of British roads has fallen below acceptable standards, especially compared to other West European countries and North America. If all of this money was allotted to Trunk Roads the standard of maintenance of the network would be transformed to the standard, as well as providing a fund for expanding and improving the network.

    This policy would still leave the huge and growing surplus from fuel duty and VAT on fuel and vehicles — a total of £24,000 million in 1996/97 — available for spending in other ways. Tax revenue on fuel duty and VAT on fuel and vehicles has increased by £10,400 million since 1993/94, so we do not accept that other means of funding are necessary, or that the Treasury is unable to finance such a programme.

    In this context, it is also worth noting that the UK has one of the lowest ratios of road tax to road expenditure in Europe.

    7. Road Safety

    The UK has an impressive record on road safety, with casualties now the lowest on record. The main reasons for this lie particularly in improved road engineering, as well, of course, as modern car design, the compulsory wearing of seat belts and a reduction in drink-driving. If the success of the past decades is to continue then it is essential that the momentum is not lost. Unfortunately, during the last five years the momentum has been lost and we believe that cutbacks in the road building progaramme are a major contributory factor. It is difficult to overestimate the role of motorways in bringing about the massive and continuous fall in casualties on our roads since the 1950s.

    Increased separation of cyclists and pedestrians from vehicular traffic is desirable wherever possible, as is improved driver education. Better road maintenance can also play a part. Well maintained roads cut casualties. Figures show that 8,798 people suffered injuries related to bad maintenance of the road network, of which 1,344 were directly related to surface defects.

    Careful study of the road network to establish where accident blackspots exist — and particularly the use of variable radius curves — would establish where road engineering improvements could be used to promote a reduction in accidents and road casualties in line with Government targets.

    We have made comments above regarding the planting of trees and shrubs along central reservations on new motorways and dual carriageways to reduce “rubber- necking” — a simple but effective measure.

    We believe that the motorway speed limit should be increased to not less than 85 mph on rural motorways. This would accord with the speed that most drivers travel at on clear motorways and in good weather conditions. This would decriminalise most motorway drivers, and we believe that there would be no adverse consequences in safety terms.

    8. Management

    The purpose of the Trunk Road network is to serve national and international traffic. We therefore believe that central planning is essential if a coherent national strategy is to be developed for the whole of England — and, indeed, co-ordinated with Wales and Scotland. In view of our obligations under the E.U. treaties, co-ordination is needed at national level with our E.U. partners in completing the proposed Trans European Transport networks, which, of course, still involve a fair amount of new road building. We therefore believe that it is essential that management of the network should remain with the Department of Transport and Highways Agency.

    Statistics on the number of local journeys undertaken on the national network are misleading. A driver who makes nine 10 mile journeys and one 500 mile journey has only done 10% of his journeys “long distance”, but that one journey still represents nearly 60% of his total mileage.

    9. Traffic Growth Forecasts

    Many bodies have claimed to be able to predict the likely rate of traffic growth over the coming years. These predictions have gone as high as an outrageous 140% by 2024. The latest projection from the National Road Traffic Forecast suggests that the increase by 2031 may be as low as 38%, and is unlikely to be more than 60%.

    Even these figures are pure speculation, and the ABD believes they are exaggerated. The SMMT believes that, while the total number of vehicles registered will rise by 30%, the average use of cars will actually come down. Others believe that the an increase in home and tele-working will actually cause car commuting to fall over the next few years.

    Furthermore, the projections fail to take into account the feasible limits to the driver population. There are currently 32 million licence holders in the UK, and, based on census figures, the maximum there could ever be is 39 million. When the minority of people who cannot or do not wish to drive are excluded, it can be seen that the potential for growth is now smaller than at any time this century. In our view, it seems unlikely that traffic levels will grow at anything like the rate predicted. The scare stories are simply not supported by the traffic and car ownership trends of the last seven years.

    Having said this, economic growth will cause traffic levels to rise, and we are concerned that no serious attempt is being made to expand capacity to allow for this.

    10. Road Charging

    The ABD believes that there is no case for charging for use of the roads. We remain vehemently opposed to charging for the use of roads which have been paid for many times over out of existing taxes. Motorists provide plenty of money to pay for the provision of roads (see Funding section).

    Not only are road charges likely to lead to widespread avoidance, but they are also an extremely inefficient, expensive and bureaucratic means of raising revenue. We particularly oppose charging for use of motorways and other Trunk Roads for the following reasons:-

    1. Diversion from motorways and other Trunk Roads will take traffic straight back onto the roads they were designed to bypass, increasing congestion, noise and disturbance.
    2. Diversion will impact on road casualties with the likelihood that the current downward trend in deaths and injuries which occurred until about five years ago would be reversed.
    3. There are profound civil liberties implications which arise from a system of electronic tracking of the type envisaged.
    4. Any system will cost at least £700 million (and probably a great deal more) to install and will need an army of staff to process bills and enforce payment.
    5. It will not be possible to distinguish between small, clean and economical cars, and polluting or fuel inefficient vehicles.
    6. Enforcement will be difficult, expensive and unpopular
    7. Someone will have to pay for the installation of Black Box decoders in all vehicles

    For these reasons, the Parliamentary Select Committee, which studied the possibility of road charging a few years ago, was against the proposals. Even the anti-car Royal Commission Report into Transport and the Environment, published in 1994, expressed grave reservations. The Labour Party also opposed motorway tolling in its manifesto.

    Similar objections exist for most other types of charging. Any attempt to introduce urban charging, for example, is likely to cause a “doughnut effect”, as people would try to conduct their lives in such a way as to minimise the need to go into areas which are subject to charging, and particularly to avoid areas where charges are highest.

    Whilst we do not support — or accept the need for — further petrol price increases, if more revenue is needed, then raising tax on petrol will provide it without the need for expensive electronic weaponry. By contrast, fuel duty is also cheap and relatively uncontroversial to collect. The Government can expect fierce political resistance to tolls, and the fallout from the inevitable administrative mistakes will be high.

    Creating a more expensive but less effective charging system is, frankly, bordering on the vindictive. Quite simply, there are far too many better ways of raising revenue.

    11. Road Improvements

    This section is not intended to do more than give a few examples of road improvements which the ABD believes could enhance Britain’s competitiveness and go some way towards bringing our road network up to international standards:-

    12. Pollution

    Noxious Pollutants

    It is often argued that road traffic needs to be curbed in order to improve the quality of our air. No right minded person would argue with the idea of reducing air pollution. What is needed, however, is a full strategy to tackle the problem across the economy as a whole — not a one-sided knee-jerk call for controls on cars.

    The fact is that air pollution from cars is already falling, and will continue to fall sharply for at least another decade. By 2010, emissions of the four main exhaust pollutants will have fallen by 67-81% compared to their 1990 levels, even if traffic levels rise at the highest projected rate. Indeed, pollution from traffic has already fallen substantially since the start of the 1990s.

    These figures are clearly illustrated in appendix B in the Royal Commission report on Transport and the Environment, published in October 1994.

    Current expectations are that emissions might then increase again, albeit slowly. We do not accept this because even tighter emissions standards are envisaged for cars by the EU. The compulsory fitment of catalytic converters on all new petrol driven cars registered from January 1993, coupled with tighter enforcement makes this possible. The forthcoming ECD3 regulations will make new cars 99.8% cleaner than their 1976 equivalents. Interestingly, some of the cleanest cars on the market at present (according to Swedish research) are German. We believe that this is because the German Government has encouraged consumers positively to choose cars that emit few pollutants, whereas (sadly) the emphasis in the UK has been negative — telling consumers to use their cars less.

    In the light of these developments, traffic pollution is no longer a valid reason for seeking to restrain traffic, particularly on inter-city routes

    Carbon Dioxide

    It is frequently argued that traffic growth must be curbed in order to reduce emissions of this gas in order to reduce the threat of global warming. The ABD has serious reservations about validity of the scientific evidence purporting to support the theory of global warming. Over 95% of the worlds Carbon Dioxide emissions arise directly from the respiratory processes of the animal species on the planet, and in the UK only one-fifth of man- made Carbon Dioxide emissions are caused by road traffic.

    If global warming is considered to be a threat to our well-being, it seems bizarre that the Government has chosen to increase the 400% tax on petrol and diesel, but reduced the 8% tax on domestic fuel.

    Furthermore, the Royal Commission Report on Transport and the Environment acknowledged that total Carbon Dioxide emissions in the UK fell by 10% in the 20 years to 1994 (see para 3.73 of that document). The fact that there has been an increase in the proportion emitted by the transport sector seems immaterial in this context.

    A modern car, driven over an average distance, emits about 3.6 tonnes of Carbon Dioxide per year, while heating and lighting the average home emits 9.6 tonnes per year. By improving energy efficiency in Britain’s homes, the National Energy Foundation believes that cuts of 24 million tonnes per annum are achievable. This would be equivalent to removing 6.5 million car from our roads.

    Whilst the ABD supports moves to improve the fuel efficiency of cars, it does not support a policy of forced reductions in traffic levels, or strangulation of the country’s highway network as a means of achieving a modest reduction in Carbon Dioxide emissions — especially since other measures could achieve greater savings without damage to lifestyles.

    13. Summary

    The ABD believes that a carefully planned expansion of our Trunk Road system and, particularly, the motorway network will lead to an easing of traffic congestion and reduction in road casualties. There will be consequent improvements in the economy and in the quality of life of residents and road users.

    This can be done using the funds already supplied by motorists in this country and there is no reason why this need involve widespread damage to the environment. Indeed, if properly planned, the environment could be enhanced, by easing congestion and taking traffic away from towns and villages. Noise and disturbance can be reduced, and free-flowing traffic on the new major roads would use less fuel and cause less pollution. New roads can be built in a way that is sympathetic to the environment.

    In urban areas, we believe that it should be better integrated with public transport to ease the switch from cars to public transport and back again, according to what is the most appropriate means of transport for a given part of a journey. However, in a free and democratic society, freedom of choice must be maintained

    By targeting road engineering improvements on accident blackspots casualties can be reduced, and in the medium term such projects are likely to be less costly to the public purse than the accidents would have been — to say nothing of the human suffering which could be avoided.

    The Association represents the views of a great number of Britain’s drivers, and believes it has a great deal to offer in the discussion towards developing England's Trunk Road Network. We would welcome further involvement.

     


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