During the last government many road schemes were cancelled and little new road building took place. At the same time both local and national government sought to manage the existing road system more intensively, often reducing traffic flows and traffic speeds. Sometimes this was necessary for good safety reasons. On other occasions it was done to try to force people out of the car and van onto public transport.
At the same time the government invited in large numbers of new people who owned cars and vans or aspired to do so, greatly adding to the vehicle stock and the congestion problems. Around 85% of all our journeys are made by road transport. The success of privatisation of the railways in its first decade in boosting passenger numbers has been followed by substantial rail investment which has also helped boost capacity and travellers. Because the initial base of 6% of journeys was so modest, even with good railway growth it was not possible to take the pressure off the roads by this means.
The Coalition government recognised the problem of lack of roadspace, but faced two difficulties in responding quickly. The list of possible new road schemes ready to build was very short. It takes time to crank up good projects and get them through the design and planning phases. The government inherited a massive public deficit, and the one area the outgoing government had cut to make a start on deficit reduction was capital schemes.
The Chancellor has gradually reversed some of the capital cuts, and the Transport department is working away on more road schemes for the future. The country remains a long way behind where it needs to be. Every day there is a danger that a single incident will bring a major route network to a halt. One crash, or one section of roadworks can result in long delays.
I will look at what could be done to improve both safety and vehicle flow on the roads we already have in a later post.