A clear roadmap and project pipeline from Highways England

Last week, Highways England announced details of its latest tranche of investment in the strategic road network. Gareth Lonie looks at the detail of the organisation’s five-year plan.

Last week, Highways England unveiled details of a previously announced £27.4bn investment in the strategic road network across England and Wales. Their document outlines activity over the next five years providing a steady pipeline of new projects, upgrades and maintenance.

More than £14bn of this investment will go into projects to improve capacity, safety and through a reduction in congestion, air quality. The flagship or marquee projects will steal the headlines – announcements on the tunnel at Stonehenge, upgrading the A66 which crosses the Pennines and a new £7bn crossing of the Lower Thames – but there are more than 50 smaller, but no less important, improvements in the plan along A roads and motorways.

The report highlights the strategic importance of many of these. There are projects to support development of Manchester’s North-West Quadrant, the emerging economic corridor between Oxford and Cambridge and motorway capacity around London and Manchester. The plan also recognises the new post-Brexit reality with many of these schemes crucial to improving access to ports in the Channel, North Sea and Irish Sea and connectivity between them.

Added to this is almost £11bn which will go into repair and maintenance, much of which will be aimed at areas of the network which were built in the 1960s and 1970s. This will lead to more than 5,000 miles of newly resurfaced road, 1,000 miles of new safety barriers on motorways and dual carriageways, the renewal of more than 170 bridges and other structures and £400m on replacing concrete sections on the A14, M5, M18, M20, M42, M54 and M56.

Highways England has taken a lot of criticism for its handling of smart motorways so it’s no surprise to see that the plan outlines measures to improve their safety. They will end the use of the dynamic hard shoulder motorways by March 2025, turning the hard shoulder into a permanent traffic lane. This, along with emergency areas and the ramping-up of traffic officer patrols, will develop driver understanding, thereby improving safety, and reduce attendance time for those in need of assistance.

The overall plan is confident in its approach claiming it will support 64,000 construction industry jobs and help the country back to recovery post-Covid. With one eye on the future, the plan has already earmarked around £360m on developing projects for RIS3 in 2025 to ensure a consistent pipeline of projects, which will be welcomed by many.

The eagle-eyed will have realised that much of the spend has been earmarked for completing projects previously announced in RIS1. Indeed, the Office of Rail and Road has previously criticised Highways England for its optimism, nevertheless ACE members and the wider industry will be delighted with the added detail and clarity this document brings. Thanks to its publication we now have a clear roadmap and a pipeline of projects which, in these challenging economic circumstances, should be welcomed by everyone working in our sector.

Read the full report at Highways England which includes a full list of future schemes, renewals and enhancements. 

Gareth Lonie is lead policy manager at the Association for Consultancy and Engineering.