Cold Shoulder Given to Chancellor’s Motorway Plans 05 Dec 2008

The Chancellor’s plans* to promote hard shoulder running is not an adequate answer to managing future growth in road traffic, according to the Royal Automobile Club Foundation, who are today (5) publishing a review of the Motorway network** to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the first Motorway***.

Concentrating all road improvements on existing motorways through measures such as Motorway widening and hard shoulder running is problematic because existing junctions and access roads are unlikely to be able to cope with increased traffic volumes. New road building is also needed if the demands of the economy are to be met.

According to the report, which assesses past and future road needs, traffic on Motorways in Britain has been growing much faster than their rate of building, which has led to the congestion we see today****. Road capacity improvements to the existing network are needed, but there is also value in developing new roads to Motorway standards.

The basic elements of the Motorway network were developed shortly after the Second World War, when traffic levels were similar to the 1930s. At this time policy makers had no idea how traffic was likely to grow. Since then, some additions have been made to the basic Motorway plan*****, but the main approach over the past two decades has been to expand the existing network rather than create new links.

According to the report road development should focus on developing the motorway network for five main reasons:

  • Motorways have lower accident rates than other roads;
  • Motorways are generally further away from residential and commercial developments;
  • Motorways allow for higher capacities and service levels than other roads;
  • New by passes will largely be able to join up with existing main routes, and;
  • The British Motorway network is sparse by European standards;

Concentrating all road improvements to the existing network rather than building wholly new routes would:

  • Encourage long distance and heavy goods vehicles to use inappropriate routes through residential areas, especially where no nearby motorway exists;
  • Reduce the resilience of the overall road network and increases the likelihood of network failure due to a lack of alternative routes;
  • Concentrate more traffic on existing routes and increase the likelihood of serious congestion, and;
  • Increase pressure on junction and feeder roads that were designed for lower levels of traffic. Continued motorway widening and hard shoulder running activities will increase the traffic pressure seen at intersections.

Due to development pressures and population growth the need for extra road capacity is almost seven times as great in the South East as it is in Scotland.

The British Motorway network is limited by European standards. It has been under increasing pressure since growth of the network slowed in 1980 whilst traffic volumes increased rapidly. When looking at car traffic, the UK ranks near bottom of the European league where motorway provision is concerned. The ten smaller EU states also have around twice the amount of Motorways as the UK. In 1970 the UK was relatively poorly provided with Motorways in comparison to its population. The UK has steadily fallen further and further behind other European countries, moving from seventh to tenth place.

Professor Stephen Glaister, Director of the RAC Foundation says ‘To plan effectively for future roads we must learn from our past failures. We need a better understanding of who is using the network and why, and how our infrastructure in the UK measures up to our European counterparts.’

‘Merely filling gaps within our existing Motorways would be a missed opportunity. This is not a good approach for society, the economy or the environment. We need to think in broader terms. Simply widening existing routes and implementing hard shoulder running will not provide adequate and resilient roads for the future’.

Tim Green, Director Road Users’ Alliance says ‘Roads are the arteries that feed the economy and permit us to compete with the rest of Europe. As a boost to the process of getting Britain back on its feet the Chancellor’s announcement is welcome recognition of the importance of our road network, but it represents too little too late. At stake is the recovery of the British economy and its future growth in the face of global competition’.


* The Chancellor announced £700m fiscal stimulus for transport in the pre-budget report. This included the acceleration of work to make better use of our motorways, through introducing hard shoulder running. Motorways to be open to hard-shoulder traffic will be announced in the New Year.

** Click here to access the RAC Foundation’s Background Paper 6 - What Pattern of Motorway Network is needed (December 08).pdf Background Paper 6 - What Pattern of Motorway Network is needed (December 08).pdf (2.53 MB)

*** The M6, Preston Bypass, measuring 13km was opened by Harold MacMillan on 5th December 1958.

**** On the M25 Motorway traffic densities have doubled since the mid 1980s. Average daily flows have increased from 38 thousand vehicle kilometres per day to over 75 thousand vehicle kilometres per day. Between 1970 and 1986 (when the M25 was completed) the motorway network grew by 1,860km and the volume of traffic increased by 31 billion vehicle kilometres. Since then, it has grown by less than a third of this level (600kms) and traffic has grown 56 billion vehicle kilometres.

***** From past plans, the additional routes to today’s motorways would be:

    • A South East orbital route that would improve cross regional links and ease pressure on the M25. This would also include a South Coast route;
    • Additional links in the South East/Midlands/North West corridor to relieve pressure on existing Motorways;
    • An extension from the basic core network to peripheral parts of the country, especially where there are major ports, and;
    • Additional East/West links, notably in the North and East Midlands to provide links between the M6 and A1(M) and centres such as Cambridge and the Midlands.