UK research shows road-building is failing to provide congestion relief


New research published by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) reveals that road-building is failing to provide the congestion relief and economic boost promised, while increasing traffic dramatically and damaging the environment.

The research, the largest ever independent review of completed road schemes in England, arrives as Highways England (HE) starts consultation on which road schemes will receive funding, which is set to triple to £3bn (US$3.7bn) a year by 2020. CPRE commissioned consultants Transport for Quality of Life (TfLQ) to examine 86 official studies of completed road schemes. The TfQL study examined: 13 road schemes for changes in traffic levels; all 86 schemes for landscape impact; 25 road schemes where economic benefits had been used to justify development; and 30-40 road schemes for possible reductions in median journey time.

Drawing on the research, CPRE’s report The end of the road? – Challenging the road building consensus, directly challenges government claims that ‘the economic gains from road investment are beyond doubt’; that road-building will lead to ‘mile a minute’ journeys; and that the impact on the environment will be limited ‘as far as possible’. Traffic was found to increase much more in road corridors with new schemes than background traffic in the surrounding area. Schemes completed eight to 20 years ago demonstrated a traffic increase of 47%, while traffic more than doubled in one scheme.

The report showed:

• All new schemes put pressure on adjoining roads, while there were negligible reductions in journey times;

• Of roads promoted for their benefits to the local economy, just one in five demonstrated any evidence at all of gains, and that was weak;

• More than half of the road schemes analyzed harmed protected landscapes and designated environmental sites, including National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and historic places;

• Overall, there was evidence that 80% of schemes built damaged the surrounding environment.

“The government is keen to sell the biggest road-building program since the 1970s, but this is a program 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,” said Ralph Smyth, head of infrastructure and legal at the CPRE.

“This landmark research shows that any benefits from road building are far smaller than thought, but the harm much worse. The Road Investment Strategy needs to be reset; not receive three times more funding. Rather than looking to the past, the government must invest in a forward-looking mobility strategy that puts quality of life ahead of the car. The government should reopen old rail lines, offer people travel options in town and countryside, and harness new technology to make more efficient use of road space. It should promote new housing on brownfield sites closer to jobs and services, rather than unleash car-dependent sprawl on green fields. We are seemingly stuck in an ideological traffic jam from which we cannot escape. Building ever bigger roads should be the last resort; not the default choice.”

Share this story:

About Author


Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).