New report maps out vision for the future of England’s strategic road network


New proposals for the future of England’s motorways and major A-roads have been published today (May 18) as part of plans to better connect the country and grow the economy in an environmentally sustainable way.

The Strategic Road Network Initial Report for 2025-2030 sets out National Highways’ advice to the government on priorities for one of the country’s most important assets over the next five-year period and beyond.

The 4,500-mile network carries around four million vehicles a day – providing links to all major ports and airports – and according to the report continued funding is needed to support the safe, efficient movement of people and goods.

A proactive approach

The report notes that National Highways’ work is likely to increasingly focus on making the most of its existing network through proactive maintenance and improvement works, boosting safety and journey reliability and in turn driving economic prosperity. This includes greater use of digital technologies, getting the network ready for connected and autonomous vehicles and encouraging active travel.

The report also outlines the challenges facing these increasingly busy roads and how investment can help tackle congestion and smooth traffic flow. Most motorways were built in the 1960s and 1970s and now require extensive renewal while National Highways also needs to ensure performance and safety levels are maintained in the face of increased exposure to severe weather.

The Initial Report will be subject to an eight-week consultation by the UK Department for Transport (DfT). It is published alongside National Highways’ long-term strategic plan, Connecting the Country. This sets out the company’s priorities for the network up to 2050, with demand for roads from zero-emission vehicles expected to remain strong as part of a seamlessly integrated transport system.

Separately, 20 Route Strategies have also been released, which help develop and maintain a detailed evidence base on the performance of the network, identifying current issues and understanding potential future challenges.

Alongside this, National Highways has published its new Environmental Sustainability Strategy which sets out the company’s long-term vision to manage roads in a more sustainable way, ensuring the network can be used as a force for good.

Report proposals

Proposals outlined in the Initial Report, which would be subject to future decisions on funding from government, include:

  • A continued focus on safety, targeting a reduction in fatalities and serious injuries through interventions such as targeted upgrades to single carriageway A-roads, initially focusing on 17 routes covering 147 miles.
  • Increasing investment in small local schemes – those valued at £2m to £25m – to spread opportunity and tackle known safety and congestion issues, often via improved slip roads and junctions connecting to local roads.
  • Providing road users with more real-time and personalized information covering congestion, ongoing incidents, planned roadworks, events and the availability of electric vehicle charging points, giving them alternative routes if necessary.
  • A greater focus on improving journey experiences, including considering lorry parking facilities as part of the design and planning of projects where a need is identified.
  • Enabling the transition to zero carbon motoring by supporting the installation of around 2,500 open-access rapid charge points for electric vehicles on the network by 2030.
  • Continuing to invest in infrastructure for non-motorized users such as walkers, cyclists and horse risers, including possibly acquiring more land to create physically segregated “link” paths and cycle lanes alongside and away from the highway.
  • Increasing proactive maintenance – fixing problems before they emerge – with the aim of reducing large repairs and disruption on the network, while driving efficiency and roadworker safety through the increased use of autonomous plant on work sites.
  • Maximizing opportunities to support biodiversity through initiatives such as the planting of an additional three million trees up to 2030.

Cutting emissions

Crucially, National Highways will propose continuing to take sustained action to cut carbon emissions at every opportunity.

By 2030, maintenance and construction emissions will be cut by up to 50% by minimizing new works, using lean construction practices and carbon management approaches. The company’s own corporate emissions will also be cut to net zero by 2030 – without the use of purchased offsetting – through the transition to renewable energy, converting most road lighting to low-energy LEDs and other initiatives such as transitioning all traffic officer vehicles to electric power.

Facilitating the shift to electric vehicles through the installation of additional charge points will help deliver the UK’s climate change commitments while improving air quality for communities close to the network.

Nick Harris, National Highways’ chief executive, said, “Our network of motorways and A-roads has a critical role to play over the next 30 years in supporting growth and levelling up. They bind together the regions and nations of the UK, facilitating national and international trade, and even under conservative forecasts demand for the network will continue to increase up to 2050.

“While we strive to maintain safe and reliable journeys for the vehicles that rely on our network each day, we know that ever higher levels of social and environmental responsibility will, quite rightly, be required of us. This means we will need to find new and innovative ways to continue connecting the country by facilitating active travel and public transport, and using digital technology to help customers make more informed decisions and managing our network more efficiently,” Harris added.

The DfT will consult widely on the initial plan to inform the development of its draft Road Investment Strategy (RIS) for the third road period, from 2025 to 2030.  Any decisions on National Highways’ proposals will also be subject to decisions on levels of funding for the five-year period, which are yet to be finalized.

Five-year funding cycles

The move to five-year funding cycles in 2015, and the increased long-term financial security this has supported, has already paid dividends for the strategic road network. Over the second road period from 2020 to 2025 the company expects to have sustained up to 64,000 jobs in the construction industry and added £27bn to the economy, mainly via a £10.5bn program to improve the strategic road network.

National Highways will also continue to work on delivering several schemes included within RIS2 during the third road period from 2025 to 2030. This includes projects such as improving the A303 near Stonehenge, the Lower Thames Crossing and the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine dualing scheme, all of which are designed to improve traffic flow, boost connectivity, and reduce congestion.

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