Monday, 12 March 2012

Expensive roads

I was concerned at the time the previous Welsh Government ditched the M4 relief road plans that, by taking the decision solely on cost grounds, there was a danger that the beast would be resurrected.  And that has duly come to pass, according to this report from the BBC last week. 
Strangely, the cost seems to have more or less halved from the £1 billion it was going to cost in 2009 to a ‘mere’ £550 million now.  It’s far from clear why the alternative scheme now proposed wasn’t part of the consideration in 2009; but either way, it’s still an enormous cost for a fairly short section of road.
Last week, Carwyn Jones seemed to be using the scheme as some sort of a stick with which to demand borrowing powers for the Assembly.  It could only go ahead, he said, if the Government was granted such powers.  In short, the government isn’t against the scheme as such; it merely cannot afford to build it.  That is not, as the Tory spokesperson claimed, a U-turn from the decision taken in 2009, merely a re-affirmation of the thinking behind that decision by the One Wales minister, who never actually claimed to be against increasing the M4 capacity as such.
Those who thought they had won the battle will now have to engage in the debate afresh when the scheme really could and should have been ruled out more comprehensively at the time.  There really are better ways of using these amounts of capital, if it were to become available, which will have more economic impact and less environmental impact.


Anonymous said...

A 'new relief lane' additional bore of the Brynglas tunnels could be completed at a fraction of that cost.

But, surely, the answer is to solve the congestion problem by spending no money at all. Increase the Severn bridge toll for HGVs from £18.10 to £40 between 06h00-10h00 and 16h00-20h00, while make it free between 24h00 and 05h00. This would remove 15% of traffic at peak time. It would also release West and Welsh hauliers from an un-necessary tax, while penalising non-West and Welsh hauliers who's route disposition is more likely to depend elsewhere. See Dartford. It might even generate income to the state(s) if the bridges fall into social hands after Severn River Crossing Plc hand back their remit. There is also opportunity for 'tacho-stack' parking on the old Llanwern site.

As for cars, Torfaen council (who currently run railway station parking in the area) should introduce 'inclusive' parkway facilities near railway stations to take away a portion of car commuters, and extend PlusBus to include both local and Newport or Cardiff busses on rail season tickets using NetzKarte/Leap/Oyster. Someone needs to give the Welsh Government a big kick up the backside to make this a reality.

Why build a road which will be empty for most of the time, just to relive a congestion issue that only occurs at specific times?
Wake up Wales!

Pads said...

Anon - Carwyn would say why bother using our brains when we can mortgage a big slice of our transport budget on a silver bullet.

stuart said...

I must say I really like Anons idea of forcing hauliers to travel off peak.

Surely it would be an idea to trial it for it a year?

Anonymous said...

It does sound like a good idea, which is why it is not allowed to happen! The Welsh Government has no powers over setting or modifying the tolls. The UK Government simply has no interest in Wales and doesn't even view Wales as a specific economic entity. I am also depressingly sure that when the crossings go back to public ownership, the UK Government will not hand them to the Welsh Government.

John Dixon said...

Spreading the peak usage over a longer period would certainly make better use of whatever capacity exists. And it's a better approach than simply increasing the capacity to meet the peak demand; something which is true whether we're talking about road, rail, or whatever. I'm not convinced about pricing as a mechanism for achieving that, however. There's a danger that traffic simply changes destination rather than time of travel, and that that might impact the Welsh economy in a negative way.

Thee is another question as well - why is so much of this traffic going by road rather than rail in the first place?

Anonymous said...

Your assumption that traffic simply changes destination rather than time of travel, and that might impact the Welsh economy in a negative way, is supposition and not backed up by any scientific studies.No such effect has occurred since the introduction of variable tolls on the Alpine tunnels. The most comprehensive study on such effects was on the Øresund. It actually vindicated a positive economic effect of weekend variable tariffs, and off-roading freight to rail at the pinch point.

There are three types of HGV traffic that uses this stretch of the M4 : (a) Irish and International, (b) British mainland long distance, (c) local traffic.

Variable tolls has a number of effects. Type (a) is already disposition spread by way of variable tariffs elsewhere (Pembroke/Fishguard). Type (b) will has little effect as hauliers adapt their drivers schedule. It would actually assist the local economy if implemented with local stacking (Llanwern). It would also stop contract hauliers using huge laidage yards on the major side (Avonmouth). Variable tolls would actually boost the local economy on the minor side (Newport). As for (c) local traffic, it might actually stop agricultural produce from Wales being taken to England to be containerised, and as an alternative, being distributed within Wales by smaller vehicles. This is the 'Swiss' model.

The point about moving to rail is a good one, but that by definition relies, on the same process of rail slots in the Severn Tunnel being cheaper at night. The same variable toll already applies on rail throughout Europe, most notably, Eurotunnel. It's fundamental to freight traffic moderation on the M20 where not only is there a night time incentive but it is also where freight does travel by rail at the pinch point. May I suggest that before Carywn commits to £500million on a new stretch of road he should first spend a few thousand pounds in a Welsh University and commission an Øresund type study on the Severn Crossing.

Is this too much to ask of the Welsh Government?

John Dixon said...

"Your assumption that traffic simply changes destination rather than time of travel, and that might impact the Welsh economy in a negative way, is supposition"

Actually, it was neither supposition nor assumption, merely expression of a fear that it might happen. I believe that the very existence of tolls disadvantages Wales to a degree, in that it makes Bristol more attractive than Newport or Cardiff for some businesses; there's a danger of compounding that effect. But I don't disagree with the basic premise that using what capacity we have more evenly and effectively is better than increasing capacity to handle what is really a rather artificial peak. My reservation isn't about the concept but about whether a pricing mechanism based on the bridge tolls is the best or most effective way of achieving that.

I'd certainly agree that a study would be useful before taking a decision either on variable tolls or on spending such a huge chunk of any available capital budget on a single road scheme.

I was more than a little disappointed with the National Freight Strategy produced by the previous Welsh Government, or rather with what looks like a complete failure to actually do anything other than write strategy documents. To some extent, that failure is what leads to a government response of trying to respond to demand rather than manage and direct that demand. That in turn goes to the heart of the question about the way we drive policy - is policy to be a response to demand from businesses and lobbyists, or is policy actually about driving change (in this case a modal and time shift in transport)?

Anonymous said...

Disappointed ? If IWJ had been put in charge of bTB we'd have been painting the badgers to look like sheep. There have been a number of intermodal rail freight interchanges built/given/refused planning permission in England. Kent (Maidstone), Berkshire (Colnbrook), Hertfordshire (St.Albans), South Yorkshire (Rossington) and West Midlands (Dudley). None are in Wales. No strategic plan has been made. How about Llanwern? Miskin? Llandarcy? Margam?

Here's what WAG said at the time...."A multi-modal freight facility at Margam Wharf, Port Talbot was one of 75 schemes identified in the process of developing the Regional Transport Plan which passed a prioritisation screening process. However, recognising that the success of such facilities is closely linked to the volume and nature of the commercial freight market, the proposal is not included in the initial 5 year RTP programme, although it remains for future consideration."

That's just not good enough. They have been looking at what is currently loaded onto trains, not what can be taken off the roads in the future. It appears the Welsh Government can draw lines on maps to designate upland beauty spots for wind turbines but has done nothing to designate existing industrial wasteland for an intermodal freight terminal. Is it because Plaid were too soft on Labour constituencies regarding planning? No-one yet has the guts to propose or champion any intermodal facility in South Wales. The ideal spot would be where the GWML and the M4 cross over or some vacant open cast coal site, or are those still designated as a military training academy and a film studio? That would be a joke if it wasn't true. Someone needs to inject some ambition into Welsh Government and it isn't a ghost tender dressed up as a consultation on the Brynglas tunnels.

John Dixon said...

I don't think I disagree with any of the points you make here, although I wouldn't necessarily have chosen the same words to make them.

stuart said...

For the last 7 years I've worked shifts, whether I'm days or nights I'm generally on the M4 sometime between 6 and 7.

This last week I have been asked to work "normal" hours to cover for someone on sick. I knew traffic would be horrendous but I didn't expect it to be as bad as it is.

In part a lot of this is to do with trucks, especially down here (by Swansea) where there are only two lanes. I believe there is a similar problem by the tunnels too.

If these trucks travelled just one or two hours earlier/later like I usually do they'd have the M4 to themselves.

Anyway, I gotta go and join the rat race.