Making it up as you go along

traffic congestionIf you need any further proof that politicians make up transport policies on the hoof you only have to look at the latest suggestion for pay-as-you-go motorway ‘express lanes’.

From the political class that brought us the infamous M4 bus lane and speed humps the size of Ben Nevis, the prospect of an all-new network of lanes running alongside existing motorways has been accelerated thanks to the apparent need for the country to generate more cash.

So much for ending the much vaunted ‘war on motorists’ then. Unlike the M6 toll road – loved and loathed in equal measure – the concept of a chargeable extra lane neatly gets around reneging on a pledge not to turn the nation’s motorway network into thousands of miles of toll roads. You see, those express lanes will be new roads. Genius.

Or rather it’s not, as the venture will be managed by the private sector. So that’ll be private roads and the ‘toll’ charge going to said industry. Still, it should keep the nation moving and cut congestion. Well, that’s the sales pitch. Shame that the revenues won’t go anywhere near the Treasury.

I also read recently that the Department for Transport has taken great delight in telling anyone who’ll listen that a whopping four billion pounds has been earmarked for new projects. It’s a shame that the rest of the money earned from the activities of private and commercial road users – a figure running into tens of billions – hasn’t been added to the pot. Those ridiculous express lanes would be the first to go if that was the case and the green light would be given for all those much needed bypasses to help reduce the pressure on congested towns.

My point? Well, for once I don’t really have one. I’m just fed up of being a cash cow for the various follies of successive administrations and seeing little in return for my enforced investment in the country’s creaking infrastructure. This goes beyond the predictable but understandable beef surrounding fuel prices; I’m just as frustrated by the decisions – or lack of – when it comes to planning for the future.

As we are rapidly finding out, there are no meaningful plans. Witness the express lane suggestion, the latest in a long line of ideas that, if it makes it past the planing stage, will cost many times more than the original headline-grabbing figure, take many years to complete causing considerable disruption and benefit only a few. With the current expansion of the M25 being scaled back due to mushrooming costs and delays, there’s form here.

There’s a double mini roundabout close to me that fits this description. I guess it must have cost somewhere in the low five figures to construct, yet it would be hard to put a value on the considerable misery it causes road users on a daily basis. Simply put, it’s a decades old experiment that should have been ripped up years ago. Better still, it should never have been built.

Still, what the highways engineer giveth he also taketh away – or something like that. Elsewhere, certain major roundabouts have been reduced in size, which is nice because until now you could rarely get two lanes of traffic to circumnavigate them safely despite the presence of the optimistic road markings. However, the harsh reality is that the work has been done to accommodate the impending arrival of a fleet of bendy buses.Back to square one then, as there’s no way one of London’s rejects and a car will be able to coexist on the same piece of Tarmac.

And when that experiment fails and the buses disappear the work done to accommodate these mobile chicanes will have been largely for nought. At least one constant remains in life: the crater-size potholes that continue to litter the country’s road. Apparently there’s no money to repair them. Can’t think how that happened…

Iain Dooley

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