Costly traffic easing measures could fail

Today the Birmingham Post reports how the bus lane that runs down Tyburn Road will finally be axed after four years in limbo, but not before it has cost taxpayers in excess of £2.6m. That’s right, the signs are being dismantled and road-markings painted over as a study reveals that the lane actually slowed traffic instead of easing congestion, and after only five years in action – from 1999 to 2004 – the council have finally decided to ditch it.


The costs included the £2.5m it took to implement this scheme, a £17,000 public consultation, and now the £88,000 it will cost to physically remove it. So just why won’t transport chiefs do their homework before diving in, all-guns blazing, and seemingly leaving any semblance of logic out of their decisions?


In the light of this unmitigated disaster, we have every right as stakeholders to question future “traffic easing” measures, and they’re never in short supply.


The WMTPA first learned about the plans for Burnt Tree Island back when we launched in 2007 on the referral of an activist who lived locally and thought the amendments were entirely unnecessary and overcomplicated. We were told back then that the costs would be an extortionate £10m, and were that not bad enough, it was revealed today that this amount has now risen to over £12m. Just to put this spend into perspective, in just December 2006 this was being hailed as a £7m scheme. So like many recent projects in the Black Country, it seems that the costs have shown a tendency to escalate with little explanation from those steering, and despite growing discontent Dudley and Sandwell Councils continue to push on with consultations and planning.


Traffic_lights And why is the scheme so unpopular? Well, because just like Birmingham’s failed Tyburn Road bus lane, local people really question whether it will do ‘what is says on the tin’ and whether a spiders-web of traffic lights around this junction will actually serve to improve traffic flow at all.


Unfortunately it appears that expensive networks of traffic lights are viewed as something of a panacea by the West Midlands Passenger Transport Authority (who’d prefer to keep the aforementioned bus lane open during peak hours to save their blushes from the embarrassment of seeing the whole thing dissembled) and various other big-wigs with responsibility for traffic and transport. But this is costing the taxpayer big money, and seems to be contended by many drivers in the West Midlands who’ve contacted us here at the WMTPA to protest that the congestion just doesn’t justify this sledgehammer-to-crack-a-nut approach.


The cry is familiar. “Take OUT traffic lights! Remove bottlenecks! Think of innovative ways around congestion, just don’t spend our millions on forests of traffic lights or fanciful road-charging schemes!”


To roll off a few figures sent over to me by a supporter: £32million to put traffic lights at an M54 junction described as “free-flowing” along with further lights at Coven and Gailey on the A449, £30million on a tiny extension to the Metro in Wolverhampton, and £25m on an underpass at the A41 in West Bromwich.   


Who’d have thought we were in a recession? This isn’t monopoly money, and it’s all coming out of our pockets.


If only one of these planned ‘improvements’ were as ineffective as the Tyburn Road bus lane it’d be a huge loss to the taxpayer, and yet it seems that the executives at the top of the tree can often become like a dog with a bone, pursuing one expensive and disruptive plan after another, often wearing blinkers as to the opinions of the general public in favour of hearing the views of highly paid consultants.


But surely those who actually use the roads, and will be paying for them shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. And in the current economic climate there’s an argument for saying that it’s time to slam on the brakes and truly assess whether these projects are, viable, practical, affordable and – of course – value for money, because it’s both unacceptable and insulting to gamble our money on potentially pointless plans.


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