A new study into the economic benefits of road building has found that any respite from congestion provided by a new or widened road is temporary. The Impact of Road Projects in England report, produced for the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), says that road building and associated development generates more traffic, which in turn creates pressure for more road building.
CPRE's head of infrastructure and legal Ralph Smyth told BikeBiz: “The Government is keen to sell the biggest road-building programme since the 1970s, but this is a programme that will forever fail on its own terms, producing a depressing, self-perpetuating cycle of more and more roads that do little for the economy and harm the countryside."
The report, by travel consultants Transport for Quality of Life, looked at the short-term impact (defined as between one and five years after scheme completion) of over 80 road schemes via information published by Highways England through its Post-Opening Project Evaluation (POPE) process.
In addition to this, four road schemes that were completed between 13 and 20 years ago were used as case studies: the A34 Newbury Bypass, the M65 Blackburn Southern Bypass, the A46 Newark – Lincoln dualling and the A120 Stansted to Braintree dualling.
The four case studies, plus nine other randomly selected schemes, were examined to gauge their impact on traffic levels.
The average increase – over and above background traffic growth, as measured by county and regional trends – was seven per cent over the short term (3-7 years) and 47 per cent over the long term (8-20 years).
The roads that were the subject of the four case studies were also found not to be ‘the answer’ to the problems they were supposed to solve.
Referring to these, the report states:
“The local authority, national government and business community were together locked into a highly car-dependent development model, in which road building and the associated development generated more traffic, which in turn created pressure for more road building.
“The case for more road building was (and is) partly justified on the basis that existing roads cannot take the strain any longer, and partly on the basis that increased road capacity will magically unlock the economic potential of the area. However, provision of more road capacity does not deliver a stable situation – the more capacity is increased, the more capacity increases are ‘needed’.”
Of 25 other road schemes that were justified on the basis that they would benefit the local economy, only five were found to have had any economic effects, and the report adds: “Even for these five, the economic effects may have arisen from changes incidental to the road scheme, or involved development in an inappropriate location, or involved changes that were as likely to suck money out of the local area as to bring it in.”
In addition to this, the impacts of road schemes on landscape and biodiversity were found to be long-lasting.
As an alternative approach, the report suggests greater investment in rail and light-rail networks, linking in with walking and cycling, and focusing development in towns, so as to make walking and cycling the modes of travel of choice.