Motorists must get used to driving at 40mph on the motorway, the civil servant in charge of Britain’s roads has said as he admitted the roads will get “slower and slower”. Graham Dalton, the chief executive of the Highways Agency, said motorway speeds were still not fast enough at busy times and suggested there was now an unofficial target of 40mph.
Labour said the admission was evidence that a decision to cut infrastructure spending in the early years of the Coalition meant that officials now had to manage congestion rather than invest in new roads. Last year, Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said the Government would invest £28 billion over the six years from 2014 on improving national and local roads.
Mr Dalton told Civil Service World magazine that while the Highways Agency was “seen as being reasonably successful” in policy terms, motorway speeds were still not fast enough at busy times. He stated:
“If you’re driving down the M6 to come to work in Birmingham every morning, we’ve got to the point where 50mph or 40mph is acceptable, and the target is to make it 40mph every weekday morning,”
The Agency is in charge of maintaining 4,300 miles of England’s motorways and ‘A’ roads. Four million vehicles use the roads daily. Mr Dalton blamed Treasury spending rules for meaning that he lost £20million from his roads spending budget due to the very wet weather in January and February.
Mary Creagh, the shadow Transport secretary, said:
“People will be shocked to hear that 40 mph is the best drivers can hope for and shocked by ministers’ complacency. We need a national plan for our road and rail networks so they can support the jobs and growth our country needs.”
This startling admission is an indictment of this Government’s decision to slash spending on our motorways and cancel many road projects that would have tackled congestion and increased speed and reliability on our motorways.
Edmund King, the AA’s president, said:
“There is a certain irony that all major political parties seem content to invest tens of billions of pounds to speed up train journeys from London to Birmingham by 32 minutes at speeds of up to 250mph, whilst a fraction of that is spent on motorways to speed up drivers to just 40mph. Drivers already feel the pinch at the pumps with high fuel prices inflated by 60 per cent tax, generating nearly £27 billion for the Treasury. With less than £8 billion each year spent on road infrastructure, it’s not hard to spot the root cause of a 40mph go-slow for UK driving commuters and families. Decent, congestion-free roads are essential for economic recovery but that recovery relies on concerted investment to keep traffic flowing at acceptable speeds. The debate on an 80mph motorway limit started by a previous Transport Secretary now seems to be a distant dream firmly kicked into the long grass.”
A Highways Agency spokesman said:
“There is no target for managing average motorway traffic flows at speeds below 70mph. The Highways Agency has been successful in making journeys more reliable and predictable – now we need to make them quicker as well.”
The Government has committed to transforming the agency into a publicly owned corporation by next year.
Britain is ranked 24th in the world for its roads, Civil Service World said, behind many other developed countries such as France.