Tag Archive | "road repairs"

The Spare Pound In Your Pocket

Schimpf! Do you recognise that sound? You have in fact heard it before. Quite often in modern times as a matter of fact. It is the sound of the thin end of the wedge being slipped between you and what‘s left of your money.

In that disingenuous and backdoor way that governments have of dishing out some more bad news on the back of good news, the Treasury, by means of its Chief Secretary Danny Alexander, has announced that a section of the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon is to be improved and subsequently tolled.

This came as part of the spending review proposed last week which included plans for some £28billion of ‘once in a generation’ projects to modernise our road system. The decision to carry on with the mooted tolling option was slipped in on page 74 in an appendix.

The AA have already said that this will not go down well with motorists. In their opinion and no doubt in our opinion too, motorists have already paid for the roads so why the heck should they pay for them again? To answer this criticism, the government have said that there will be a non-tolled road for local traffic.

So that presumably means that every other driver who might have to travel that way will surely avoid this road because it is for locals only! The government might as well hope that the economic situation will shortly be sorted out by the passing of some pink flying pigs (Their preferred option). There may well be some well-heeled people or folk on an urgent mission who might cough up but I think the government might well find that the local road will suddenly become very busy.

The minister confirmed that this very congested stretch of road will be upgraded from a dual carriageway to three lanes either side. This is a good thing as it is a notorious route. The bad news is that it will cost a quid to use it. This is them being a bit clever. One pound, as everybody knows, does not go a long way. They presumably hope that most will say’ ‘Well, it’s only a quid’ and chuck the coin in the bin.

The other reason that it was quietly announced and is a relatively low fee is that the government is very nervous about their cunning plan. They wonder if motorists might take umbrage that they are again being targeted. The answer is of course a resounding and blindingly obvious yes.

Unquestionably there is a need for the many congested areas of our highway system to be refreshed and renewed to keep the traffic flowing. Tax payers know that this will cost huge sums of money but they also know that the roads have been chronically under-funded for decades as ministers bereft of economic ideas continue to plunder the road pot.

It is no mystery why that which we all once knew as ‘Road Tax’ is now commonly called ‘Vehicle Excise Duty’. See what they did there? Make no mistake – they might be reticent about introducing this now but it really is the thin end of the wedge. If motorists accept this the exercise will be repeated. And repeated.

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More Motorway Misery

It is the view of the pessimist that, just when you think that life can’t get any worse, it does. It would not be unreasonable therefore for the average motorist to be pessimistic about the state of our roads. Thought they couldn’t get any worse? Read on:

In order to save money the Highways Agency – subject to a shrinking budget just like the rest of us – has decided that road maintenance will be reduced and that works that have previously be undertaken at night when the roads are quieter will now be done during the day as a cost-cutting measure.

To be fair, it has rather been forced upon them by swingeing cuts to funding. For the period 2014-15 their budget has been slashed by twenty percent, down from £883m to £663m. A new government spending review is due out shortly which is believed to contain further cuts for the year following. Presumably the Chancellor comes up with these ideas whilst wiping succulent grease from his chin after another slap-up feast at the Mansion House at our expense.

Contractors will be asked to make substantial savings and they in turn will have greater freedom to do the work when and how they please. The word ‘how’ is the worry here because tightening budgets could lead to inferior work and materials as contractors strive to maintain profits.

This is also likely to mean a return to large scale traffic jams as road lanes are closed at peak times. Motoring organisations say that this could cost the economy millions. Essentially, the approach will be to lower all standards to the barest minimum of safe levels.

This means that works that needs doing now will be put off until when and if ‘it is most cost effective’ to fix them. These measures are being put in place despite the fact that our major roads and motorways are already causing problems. Speed restrictions are being introduced on some main roads because of the poor condition of surfaces.

There is talk that, where work is essential on a three lane highway, that only the inner (where wear and tear is greatest) and middle lanes will be repaired. Outer lanes may not be touched whilst there is ‘any residual life’ left in them.

Thanks to the lobbying of car-hating organisations and views of the latest Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLaughlin – which differ so much from his predecessor – the government has put the notion of an 80mph motorway limit on the back burner.

As it turns out, this might probably be just as well if our major routes are going to continue to deteriorate. So enjoy the coming Summers, trapped in mighty tailbacks with squalling, overheated kids whilst some workmen apply loose chippings and a bit of spit to the road surface. This is your driving future. Sorry to be so pessimistic.

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Opinion – Taking A Fly Swat To Godzilla

In an announcement from the Transport Secretary, the government is going to cough up £165 million to help deal with traffic bottlenecks at various locations around the country. Sixty two schemes in total form the second wave of the so-called Local Pinch Point Fund. This money is to be augmented with local contributions.

Anyone who has any knowledge at all about road building and maintenance costs will know that this is a drop in the ocean. To put it into perspective, in 2011 the BBC reported that one single mile of motorway costs £30 million to build. The quoted £165m would therefore only be enough to deliver the equivalent of just five and half miles of road. It’s peanuts.

The work will include upgrading key roads, bridges and traffic hotspots. The aim is make life easier for the thousands of motorists and business who use local roads daily. Very laudable but it doesn’t really address the whole issue of our third world roads and the many unattended potholes that litter them.

With the usual breathtaking audacity of government guesswork they reckon that the schemes ‘had the potential’ to ‘help’ create more than 100,000 jobs and a similar number of ‘new homes’. Eh? These are the sort of numbers that are usually trotted out to give credence and justification to expenditure. They rarely ever come to anything.

In the South East, twelve schemes have been given a £42m green light and will include a ‘hamburger’ style roundabout with a carriageway through its centre which will alleviate the problems at the dreaded Milton Interchange on the A34 in Oxfordshire. Actually, that is a good idea.

The money is, it has to be said, being spread very thinly. That’s a lot of schemes and some of them seem to be a little under-funded. In the manner of these things it could just possibly result in an overspend. It would be wrong for Motor Blogger to carp too much; after all, at least some money is being spent to make our roads better.

Some of the bottlenecks mentioned have been in need of sorting out for years, so it’s a good thing. The snag is that it is not nearly enough. More money needs to be spent on making road surfaces better and thus safer and less money needs to be spent on massive vanity projects like the £33 billion (and the rest) HS2 rail link which has already cost the tax-payer £50m in bad management before even a blade of grass is has been cut.

We want money spent on our roads but £165m is like watching Godzilla rising from the sea and expecting to beat him back with a fly swat. The issue is much bigger than just some local bottlenecks problems.

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The Hole Truth

Winter is just around the corner. Our roads are preparing themselves for the annual attack on our tyres and suspension systems. We’ve had another political season of evasiveness and obfuscation both locally and nationally and as ever nothing has actually been achieved.

You see – it’s all talk. The reality is that in 2009/10 £9 billion pounds was spent on our roads but you, the motorist, actually coughed up a plump £33 billion in fuel and road tax in the same period. Where’s that gone, then?

If you want proof, here’s a direct quote from transport minister Norman Baker: “Local roads are the responsibility of local highway authorities and they are best placed to use their knowledge and experience to decide how to prioritise funding across the range of services they deliver. This Government is giving councils over £3 billion for road maintenance from 2011/12 to 2014/15, as well as investing £6 million for the highways maintenance efficiency programme to get the most out of investment in this area.” In the greater scheme of things that’s not a lot of money.

There you have it. Having devolved road casino pa natet maintenance to cash-strapped local councils in the past, those in power can have someone else to blame whilst hanging tightly onto the purse strings. The upshot of this is that, unquestionably, our roads are going to get worse rather than better. It is also going to be harder to prove the negligence of others when your car drops a wheel down a hole.

The Department for Transport has recently announced proposals to devolve funding for major transport schemes to new local transport bodies. At the same time, it is also considering similarly devolving bus funding and some responsibility for certain rail services. Seriously, that’s just what we need isn’t it? Another level of mid-level bureaucracy. Is it any wonder that there’s no money left to actually do the job. Overall, it sometimes seems unclear who is responsible for what, who has their fingers on the purse strings and who, at the end of the day, is accountable.

It seems such a straightforward thing to organise. Just let one national agency handle all Britain’s roads. Simple. Someone like the Highways Agency for example; but wait. Isn’t that what they used to do anyway? It is hard to know what to do. In other European countries the people take the streets when they see blatant injustice but here, no doubt, we would be too concerned about missing Coronation Street. In the meantime governments continue to pocket great wads of our hard-earned cash.

Apropos of that, a council in the West of England have just voted themselves an extra two grand on their annual expenses. That’s each. Also, did you know that the amount of money paid to motorists for pothole damage would be enough to repair 100,000 holes. Enjoy your driving.

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