Last week the Government published the first Road Investment Strategy, a five year plan of upgrades and improvements on England's strategic road network, aimed at improving journey time reliability by filling in the gaps on the network.
EEF has long been an advocate of the Government's roads reform programme as it will provide certainty for the Highways Agency to invest over the medium to long term, ending the stop-start investment cycle which has resulted in poor value for money and key projects being cancelled.
It's important to note that the Road Investment Strategy, despite the name, isn't a massive road building programme. No new motorways will actually be created over the first five years.
The announcement included a package of measures:
- The introduction of A-road Expressways - dualling stretches of A-roads which are currently single carriageway and grade separating junctions to improve traffic flows
- Smart Motorways - essentially the use of variable speed limits, using the hard shoulder as an extra lane and monitoring the network more closely to clear up traffic incidents
Do roads matter?
Roads are important to businesses, and the strategic road network is the glue that holds the rest of the transport network together from the local road network to access to ports, airports and railway stations.
Manufacturers rely on the network, significantly more than rail, for a range of business operations including sending and receiving goods, having access to a skilled talent pool and building relationships with new customers and suppliers.
As we reported a few weeks ago, manufacturers feel England's road network is getting worse and when it comes to priorities for infrastructure investment they place the strategic road network as their top priority.
The announcement is therefore good news.
The final piece of the puzzle is turning the Highways Agency into a Strategic Highways Company, making it arm’s length of Government. This will allow the new company to deliver the Road Investment Strategy without the risk of Government U-turns over funding or projects.
In the future the government, as client, will contract with the new Strategic Highways Company - moving the relationship from one currently based on day to day instruction to one based on a long term foundation backed up by contract law.
The Infrastructure Bill which will enable this to happen has its second reading today in the House of Commons. If that passes then the reforms will be on track to start delivering by April 2015.