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ROAD TO RECOVERY?

PUBLIC SPENDING

In the Summer of 2000 the government launched its long-term strategy for the UK's transport system, aimed at addressing 'decades of under-investment and growing demands for transport'. In the fifth of a series of articles on public investment, Allan Wilén investigates how the government's plans are progressing The Ten Year Transport Plan, Transport 2010, earmarked £25 billion for investment in the national road network, while a further £60 billion was allocated for local transport including local road improvements.

Alongside the rise in funding are clear targets for improving the condition of the English road network.

Key government targets Cut congestion on inter-urban routes by 5 per cent below current levels by 2010;

Complete the 40 road schemes in the Highway Agency's Targeted Programme of Improvements at a cost of £1.4 billion, with all projects underway by 2005;

Improve safety and traffic flow at junctions through 80 major trunk road schemes by 2002/03;

Provide 100 new bypasses on trunk and local roads to reduce congestion and pollution in communities;

Support 130 other major local road improvement schemes;

Ease bottlenecks by targeted widening of 575km of the strategic road network;

Maintain the motorway and trunk road network at the current 'optimum' level of repair, with maintenance work carried out on 7 per cent to 8 per cent of the network annually;

Halt the deterioration in the condition of the local road network by 2004 and eliminating the repair backlog by 2010;

Install quieter surfaces on 60 per cent of the strategic road network by 2010.

Funding Public sector investment in the strategic road network over the three years to 2003/04 is being increased sharply from its recent low level. In addition, total investment is being boosted by the greater use of private finance, including projects such as the Birmingham Northern Relief Road.

Although public sector investment will rise at an annual rate of around 20 per cent over the three years from the previous low level, the biggest increases do not feed through until the latter half of the planned period.

Under the plan, total spending on local transport will be over 80 per cent higher in cash terms than during the last decade.

Revenue or current spending at £51 billion accounts for the lion's share of funding.

However, the total also includes sharp increases in both public and private sector investment.

Where funding is finally directed will be determined by local authorities through their local transport plans. Spending to tackle the road maintenance backlog and improvements to the local road networks will have to compete for funding against spending on public transport. The government will therefore have to closely monitor progress in order to assess whether the additional funds are delivering the intended improvements.

Tackling disrepair Recent survey findings highlight the size of the repair backlog faced by local authorities and suggest that progress to date has been slow. The National Road Maintenance Condition Survey (NRMCS) provides an annual assessment of the road network's condition. The 2000 survey recorded a continued deterioration in the overall condition of the road network, led by a worsening in the condition of unclassif ied roads. The survey confirmed that the local road network is in its worse condition for 30 years.

The next official survey, due for release at the end of May, appears set to show continued deterioration. Over three-quarters of local authorities responding to an Institution of Civil Engineers survey had seen their maintenance backlog grow over the last 12 months. Nationally the backlog is estimated to be £5.5 billion, a 17 per cent jump on 2001.

The survey also found that, on average, councils were only spending 87 per cent of government allocations on highways maintenance - highlighting the need to more carefully monitor whether the increased funding is delivering the intended objectives.

Road improvements The government estimates that about 7 per cent (730km) of the strategic road network currently suffers heavy peak and occasional non-peak congestion and a further 13 per cent (1,356km) suffers heavy congestion on at least half the days in the year. However, it does not currently publish regular information on congestion levels across the network.

More effective monitoring would indicate whether improvements are helping to deliver the object of cutting congestion by 5 per cent.

As part of its strategy for reducing congestion across the network, the Highways Agency has a targeted programme of improvements (TPI). The Highways Agency is committed to starting all of the original 40 TPI schemes by 2005. Eight schemes are already open to traffic. A further nine are under construction and the agency plans to let contracts on another eight schemes during 2002/03.

However, slower progress is being made in identifying the more extensive schemes required if the government is to meet its objective for reducing congestion. Transport 2010 listed 21 multi-modal studies that would take a comprehensive look at transport problems in their study area and develop solutions across all transport modes. Many of the projects listed in the plan, including the widening of 575km of the national network, are expected to arise from the studies. Unfortunately, of the 11 studies due to be completed by April 2002, only four have been published.

Progress has also been slower at the local road level. The government has to date approved 76 road schemes including 33 bypasses. However as yet the majority have no start date as they are awaiting completion of the necessary statutory procedures.

Next steps The substantial increase in planned government funding demonstrates the high political priority given to addressing the historic under-investment in the nation's road system and tackling growing congestion. The challenge for the government is now to ensure that the increased resources are put to effective use. In particular, prompt completion of the multi-modal studies and the swift implementation of their findings are a priority.

Recommendations for action The Construction Products Association's report called for a number of additional actions to ensure that the extra resources being directed at the road network deliver the indeed improvements. There is currently a lack of regular data on congestion levels on the motorway and trunk road network.

The DTLR and the Commission for Integrated Transport should come to an early decision on accepted measures of congestion on the inter-urban road network and establish a basis for monitoring progress on an annual basis towards meeting the target to reduce congestion by 5 per cent by 2010.

An interim target for reducing congestion should be set to coincide with the end of the next spending review (2006) and, if necessary, additional measures proposed to ensure this is achieved.

The DTLR should publish an annual progress report on the implementation of the specif ic measures outlined in the Ten Year Transport Plan which are aimed at increasing capacity and reducing congestion. In advance of the next spending review, the DTLR should make an off icial estimate of the cost of remedying the backlog of repairs.

The CSR 2002 should include an interim target for further reductions in the backlog of road maintenance by 2006, consistent with the ultimate target of eliminating the road maintenance backlog.

A summary of the CPA's report Achievable targets? Investment realised? can be obtained from Chris Bennett at the association on 020 7323 3770 or cbennett@constprod. org. uk

Table 1: Strategic roads

£ billion CSR Period Ten Year 1999/00 2000/01 2001/02 2002/03 2003/04 Plan Total Public investment £0.7bn £0.9bn £1.0bn £1.1bn £1.2bn £13.6bn -13% 29% 11% 10% 9% 18% Public resource spending £0.5bn £0.5bn £0.6bn £0.7bn £0.7bn £8.9bn 67% 0% 20% 17% 0% 218% Private investment 0 0 £0.2bn £0.2bn £0.2bn £2.6bn 0% 0% 189% Total £1.2bn £1.4bn £1.8bn £2.0bn £2.1bn £25.1bn -8% 17% 29% 11% 5% 65% Source: Ten Year Transport Plan Note: Public investment represents capital works. Public resource spending is current spending on repair and maintenance work

Table 2: Local transport

£ billion CSR Period Ten Year 1999/00 2000/01 2001/02 2002/03 2003/04 Plan Total Public investment £0.5bn £0.8bn £1.3bn £1.5bn £1.7bn £19.3bn 25% 60% 63% 15% 13% 172% Public resource spending £2.5bn £2.6bn £2.8bn £2.9bn £3bn £31.9bn 9% 4% 8% 4% 3% 41% Private investment £0.4bn £0.4bn £0.6bn £0.7bn £0.8bn £9.0bn -20% 0% 50% 17% 14% 173% Total £3.4bn £3.8bn £4.7bn £5.1bn £5.5bn £60.2bn 6%12% 24% 9% 8% 82% Source: Ten Year Transport Plan Note: Public investment represents capital works. Public resource spending is current spending on repair and maintenance work