RAC Foundation: The roads of tomorrow

A transport milestone has just been passed. Sixty years ago, on 5 December 1958, England’s first motorway was opened.

Initially known as the Preston bypass, the eight-mile stretch of road became a core part of what is now the M6.

Some 2,300 drivers used the bypass on that inaugural day, compared with the hundreds of thousands who travel up and down various parts of the 230-mile long M6 now.

The expansion and utilisation of the motorway network reflects the rapid growth in car ownership after World War II. In 1946 there were around two million cars in Great Britain; now it is around 32 million.

Road traffic has soared similarly, from 29 billion miles to 327 billion miles over the same period.

Motorways make up just 1% (2,300 miles) of Britain’s road network but carry a fifth of all traffic. It is easy to regard our strategic roads – motorways, but also our major A roads – as important a utility as the power, telecoms and water networks.

That’s why the ongoing evolution of the next five-year road investment strategy (RIS2) which will come into effect in 2020 is so important.

At the Budget the Chancellor was keen to remind MPs that income from Vehicle Excise Duty – a total of almost £30 billion between 2020-25 – will be hypothecated to pay for the RIS2 programme of works, which will likely include the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, the A66 Trans-Pennine route and the new Lower Thames Crossing aimed at alleviating the travel misery still routinely seen at the existing Dartford Crossing.

Some of the money will be used on the M6 too. Under Highways England’s Smart Motorways banner sections of the hard shoulder are already being converted to create a fourth running lane.

The RAC Foundation has been a long-standing advocate of the road investment strategy concept – which gives certainty of funding and confidence to suppliers and contractors – but continues to argue that whilst the investment in new capacity is important, adequate resources need to be allocated to maintaining the road infrastructure we already have. With traffic at record volumes it has never been under greater pressure.

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