Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fewer new roads?

There was a lengthy story in yesterday’s Western Mail about the transport experts calling for a review of all road schemes in Wales in the light of evidence that car traffic might be declining.  One thing that struck me as notable in the report was that – unusually – there was no comment from politicians of any party.  Whether they were asked and declined, or simply not asked, I don’t know. 
There are few topics on which politicians are usually reticent to rush out a quote.  Road-building may well be one of them; it’s a subject on which they know that they can’t please everyone.
In another context, it became clear to me a week or two ago that much of the economic case put forward by governments for road schemes is based on an assumption that traffic will continue to grow inexorably.  Partly this is just a result of population growth, but it’s also partly based on the assumptions that there will be economic growth, and that economic growth will of necessity lead to increased traffic.
It’s good to see those assumptions – all of them – being challenged. 
I wouldn’t support the abandonment of all the proposed road schemes though.  Although governments like to present the case in business terms, as though everything can be reduced to cost and benefit, there are other factors involved of which we should not lose sight.  Not a few of our trunk roads follow very old routes through the centres of villages and towns, and even if the levels of traffic drop from current levels, there are still valid reasons for constructing some alternative routes.
But overall, a stress on alternatives to road-building is to be welcomed, particularly if it starts to look more at freight traffic as well as passenger traffic.  Although there has been a switch in recent years from investment in roads to investment in public transport, it’s been too little too slowly.
Rail improvements are still too often the result of responding to lengthy campaigns after the demand has already appeared rather than an attempt to plan and provide pro-actively to encourage the demand.  Similarly the freight strategy for Wales is a document full of worthy sentiments, but remarkably light on hard actions which will do other than respond to demand.
The response of the Welsh Government to the report was not encouraging.  They clearly remain wedded to the idea of continuing growth in road usage.  It’s another example of a mismatch between 'green' words and 'business as usual' actions.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

We need a Bangor to Swansea 'Western Corridor' railway that would help secure jobs and investment to keep Y Fro alive and link it economically/socially/culturally to the south.

stuart said...

Car traffic may well be declining but it's not through the choice of the motorist. The price of fuel is so high that many people have little choice but to stay in on the days off.

With the development of alternative fuels it would be far better to continue building the roads ready for when cheap electric vehicles are common place.

Anonymous said...

And sorting out the A470,bypasses for Builth and Rhaeadr so at least we can get from one part of our country to another with at least a semblence of efficiancy

Glyndo said...

Having done quite a lot of driving in France, every little town and village seems to have a by-pass. I know they have more room than us, but it seems much more civilised.