For centuries, good roads have influenced the way we live, work and trade.
As a nation that makes over 80 per cent of journeys by road, and whose population is forecast to grow to 75m by 2050, investing in our ageing infrastructure is rightly at the top of the agenda.
Rather than developing proposals in isolation, roads investment is now recognised as a boost to productivity and a catalyst for regeneration.
With this in mind, economic road corridor approaches to investment, new central government spending pots and continual digital innovation are set to take centre stage in 2019.
The need for the UK to forge a new place for itself in a post-Brexit world and strengthen both domestic and global market access has seen the re-emergence of the corridor approach to economic development.
While corridor-led schemes are prevailing in places like Singapore, India, China and Pakistan, ground-breaking strategic proposals are also being proposed here in the UK.
They take encouragement from the continued success of the M4 corridor’s, so-called ‘Silicon Alley’, the largest tech cluster in the UK outside London, turning over £10bn each year.
“Over the next year, we’ll see a number of announcements that will give us the certainty we need to plan for the future”
Plans for a London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, a Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford trade highway and Midlands Connect’s own calls for urgent, co-ordinated development along the length of the A46 are all emblematic of this trend.
By linking economic centres to each other and the rest of the UK, corridor development schemes widen access to labour pools, boost business productivity and increase the reliability and resilience of the network. Promoting nationwide connectivity and collaboration is essential if we’re to address regional inequalities and rebalance our national economy.
Road investment pots
During 2019, the Major Road Network (MRN) should be formally established by the government, following an indicative funding commitment of up to £3.5bn from 2020-2025.
Creating an additional tier of roads between the Strategic Road Network, managed and maintained by Highways England, and local authority roads, Midlands Connect and other sub-national transport bodies have called for greater influence over where this pot of money is spent, to ensure it draws on regional expertise and prioritises schemes with the highest potential for economic growth.
However, MRN funding pales into relative insignificance when compared to the second Road Investment Strategy pot – RIS2 – which is worth over £25bn.
Where, when and how this will be allocated to both the delivery of regional priorities and the development of new projects, could be the most important event of 2019, even if it isn’t the one which grabs the headlines.
It is increasingly clear that we cannot address the mobility challenges of the future with construction alone.
The greater availability of data provides us with new opportunities to better use our existing infrastructure and build networks fit for the future.
The increased uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) and roll-out of 5G networks will change the way we plan, develop and improve road networks in the coming year and beyond.
Insight from McKinsey suggests that the UK will need a six-fold increase in EV charging points by 2020 to meet demand.
As well as incorporating traditional charging infrastructure into transport plans, we will also see further consideration of more radical technologies such as electric charging lanes, which are already in use in Sweden.
EVs aside, expect to see an acceleration in the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles and HGV platooning as 5G connectivity and the internet of things continue to revolutionise the way we travel.
The future of our road infrastructure is inexorably linked to economic regeneration, emerging technologies and new government funding strategies.
As corridor approaches pave the way for enhanced inter-regional and international connectivity, the UK is well placed to become a more balanced, productive and innovative society.
Over the next year, we’ll see a number of important announcements that will give all of us, including the construction sector, the certainty we need to plan for the future.
Maria Machancoses is director at Midlands Connect