If you build it they will come

Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) has today released a report with the major revelation that traffic levels rise when new roads are built. They argue that spending on roads is a major “gamble” because the Highways Agency has, on occasion, inaccurately predicted their road schemes’ effects on traffic, noise and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Agency has often underestimated the increase in use when a road is widened or a new road is built.  When this happens it is because there is more pent up demand for roads than the Highways Agency thought.  That actually implies taxpaying motorists were particularly in need of new capacity in order to get around, driving to work or to access services.  The Millenium Dome was a failure because it didn’t get enough visitors; most people wouldn’t see a new road as a failure if it has too many users.

Amazingly the CBT appear to see things differently, at least when it comes to roads and see people being able to drive more as a bad thing. One has to question if a new bus route was introduced and carried more passengers than the operator expected, would it be branded as a gamble of public money by the CBT?

Probably not- but with such an avid belief in personal transport being the least desirable means for people to get around they ignore the basic evidence that driving is essential to most people getting around. £8.3 billion was spent on the roads in 2007-08  but they carried the majority of British passengers- 749 billion passenger kilometres in fact.  Other modes of transport carried far fewer people for each pound of public spending they received as we showed in our recent report.

Even the CBT report notes that

“Even though the volume of traffic turns out to be higher or lower than expected, the benefit-cost ratio of these four schemes stayed remarkably level (or even increased).” 

From the perspective of the anti-car fanatics at the CBT, it is surprising that a road carrying more people than expected makes it more useful.

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