Highways Agency project justifications don't stand up to scrutiny

Last week the Treasury announced their “Action to tackle poor value for money and unfunded spending commitments”, cancelling some of the former government’s projects and putting others on hold until a spending review. However it would appear that some projects have slipped through the net even though the government stated the projects that were not affordable, did not represent good value for money, or did not reflect the Government’s priorities had been cancelled. 

The Highways Agency (HA) is currently installing traffic lights on an island at J2 of the M54. And it is costing £3.5 million. Information from the HA obtained by a TPA supporter stated that the project was aimed at reducing the accident rate at the site. Since 2004 – 2008 a total of 51 personal injury collisions had occurred at the junction all of which were slight. The HA assure us that no safety project is passed on a whim and that all potential highway safety improvement schemes have to show a positive economic benefit before they can be approved.

So what is the calculated economic benefit? Well the predicted reduction in casualties will fall by 67 percent over five years. Therefore accident numbers should go down to 17 collisions, meaning it has cost almost £102,000 to prevent each slight accident.

The HA then claim that accident reduction is just one part of the cost benefit analysis of this scheme. The capacity of the junction is also being increased therefore improved journey time is also factored into the justification for the scheme. How will increased capacity at a junction reduce journey times if drivers have to stop at traffic lights?

Improving traffic flows on congested roads is important, particularly in the case of this junction because it is anticipated that traffic will increase due to the development of a new industrial site adjacent to the motorway. TPA research has shown that roads can carry more passengers per pound spent, which is crucial to cutting congestion when the public finances are in dire straits. But prioritising road spending on expensive and dubious safety schemes is a mistake.      

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