“Blueprint for a gridlocked economy”16 Sep 2007

The RAC Foundation described the road transport aspects of the Conservative “Blueprint for a green Economy” as a “Blueprint for a gridlocked economy” which will stall economic development.

The report falls into the trap of believing all the myths and misconceptions about road improvements. It rules out motorway widening and other road improvements without offering any kind of plan B. It is strong on cliché but weak on practical alternatives.

The report also rules out national road charging. Yet the reality is that even with demand management and other measures in place, more road capacity is needed. Their policy is influenced by a range of public concerns about the consequences of adding capacity.

It is important to be clear about the validity or otherwise of these concerns. The facts on some of the most common ones are as follows.

  • In many circumstances new road capacity can keep pace with growing demand


On many transport corridors it is appropriate to build sufficient capacity to serve growing demand and reduce congestion in the long term, but not in all areas. Our analysis shows that a programme of investment in strategic road capacity at an annual rate similar to that achieved during the 1990s would provide for growing demand on most of the motorway and trunk road networks at least to 2041, with or without road pricing.

  • New road capacity does not simply “fill up with traffic”


New road capacity in appropriate locations generally relieves congestion, though by reducing travel times and costs, it also may lead to more traffic. Some of this is traffic transferring from adjacent roads that are slower or more congested, but there may also be some new traffic. However, this does not simply ‘fill up’ the additional capacity or move the traffic jam down the road to the next bottleneck. Instead, there is a new balance between supply and demand in which there is more traffic than before, but less congestion and often less pollution.

Commenting on the report, Edmund king, executive director of the RAC Foundation said:

“If the measures in this plan were implemented it would lead to a gridlocked and stalled economy with more congestion and pollution rather than a “green economy”. Roads are essential for 93% of passenger journeys and 67% of freight movement yet road improvements are ruled out. There is no plan B as the report also rules out national road pricing.

“The recommendations on workplace parking taxes are merely a tax on work and charging for out of town parking will fuel inflation whilst doing nothing for the environment. Their ideas on the road network need to stay in the blue sky rather than becoming a blueprint.”