From 1997 to 2010 the UK built very little extra road space. The Labour government welcomed in many more people to the country. More people bought and used cars, vans and lorries. Congestion got worse, time and money was wasted in traffic jams, and the environment suffered from more needless pollution as a result.
The Coalition wanted to improve the road system. For the first couple of years a shortage of money and the absence of inherited plans that could be built delayed matters. More recently the government is embarked on numerous improvements, led by the introduction of so called smart motorways where emergency lanes become additional traffic lanes to provide more capacity.
Roads are supplied free at the point of use and paid for out of general taxation and public borrowing. This has its advantages. It allows people of all incomes to enjoy access to the roads without worrying about cost. It obviates the need for specific revenue collection. It also means there is no price rationing, making it difficult to assess how much roadspace we need. It means we have rationing by queues and inconvenience rather than by price.
The missing decade and a half of road building made a not very good position in 1997 far worse. There is still no south coast dual carriageway all the way from the channel ports to Southampton, although this is a very busy area. There is still no continuous dual carriageway from the busy south east to Exeter along the A303. There is inadequate road capacity to the east coast ports, no full motorway to the Scottish border in the east, limited cross Pennine capacity. The plans I left in Wales for a main route across the top of the valleys from the A40 in the west to Swansea has not been completed (A465) .
Big roads lead to better economic development. Most industrial and commercial parks these days are located near to motorways and trunk roads, rather than next to railway lines. The next government needs to make a better national road network a priority. It also needs to do more to assist the motorist, van and lorry driver. Instead of treating all drivers as potential criminals and concentrating on taxing and fining them, government needs to see the provision of road space is a necessary public service where the users pay large fees for the privilege of using their cars and roads. Of course road safety and responsible driving matters. So should it matter that road blockages by the authorities are kept to the minimum, that they do not block roads close to each at the same time other making lives impossible, and they should be constantly improving junctions with a view to easing congestion. They need fewer traffic lights and more roundabouts.