Highways England has today unveiled the details of its five-year plan for £27.4bn investment in the strategic road network across the country.
Although the plans will be welcomed by the industry, the announcement surprisingly clashed with the shock news that Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan is to stand down early next year.
The Strategic Business Plan and the Delivery Plan, both covering the period 2020-2025, will see Highways England deliver £14bn of projects improving the quality, capacity and safety of the motorways and major A roads that have helped keep the country going during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Almost £11bn will go into improving everyday journeys by repairing and replacing parts of the network, largely built in the 1960s and 70s.
In a boost to the nation’s recovery, Highways England said its plans would help support 64,000 construction industry jobs.
And it pointed to its recent opening of the £1.4bn project on the A14 between Cambridge and Huntingdon, which was delivered on budget and eight months ahead of schedule.
Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan said: “Our network is a vital part of everyone’s life. It has served the country well during the pandemic, keeping supermarket shelves stocked and enabling key workers to get where they need to be. Over the next five years we will increase capacity where it is most needed and continue to upgrade more of the network which has suffered from decades of under-investment.
“We now have a strong track record of delivering new schemes and operating the network for the benefit of our customers and the communities we serve. The plan we’re launching today will protect and create jobs to aid the nation’s recovery, and make journeys faster and more reliable for freight and road users.”
Today’s plans set out how Highways England will deliver the government’s second Road Investment Strategy announced at the budget in March. The company will:
- Open more than 50 upgrades and save millions of hours by improving journey times;
- Invest almost £1bn on broader projects to improve roads for the communities they serve, such as conserving cultural heritage or strengthening flood resilience, and improving access for walkers, cyclists and horse riders;
- Make 7,500 households quieter by tackling noise from roads;
- Help stop the loss of biodiversity;
- Develop a pipeline of around 30 schemes for potential construction post 2025.
It will also take forward flagship projects to connect key parts of the country, including:
- A new road and tunnel under the Thames between Essex and Kent, adding capacity and speeding up journeys between the Channel ports and the rest of the country, which will improve access to jobs, housing, leisure and retail facilities on both sides of the river;
- Upgrading the A66, creating the first new Trans-Pennine dual carriageway since 1971, improving connections between ports in Scotland and Northern Ireland and those in England at Hull and Felixstowe;
- Improving the major direct route between the south-east and south-west including a tunnel near the Stonehenge World Heritage Site.
The national body will also deliver a series of major upgrades, such as improving: access to the Port of Liverpool; capacity on the A19 in Sunderland supporting local plans for an international advanced manufacturing park; journey times on the A38 with a scheme for the Derby junctions in the Midlands while providing extra facilities for walkers and cyclists; and the A12 in the East, aligning with local authority development plans.
As much of the network was built over 60 years ago and needs renewing the company will:
- Resurface nearly 5,000 lane miles of road;
- Install or renew more than 1,000 miles of safety barriers on motorways and dual carriageways;
- Renew more than 170 bridges and other structures ;
- Invest £300-400m replacing ageing concrete sections on the A14, M5, M18, M20, M42, M54 and M56.
Highways England claims the plans lay the foundations for connected vehicles, digital traffic management and enabling two-way communications between roadside infrastructure and in-car devices that will revolutionise inter-modal transportation and personal and commercial mobility.
Marie-Claude Hemming, director of external affairs for the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA), welcomed the plans. She said: “This long-awaited publication sets out in detail the vital investment that will made to the Strategic Roads Network in the next five years, which will drive economic growth, boost connectivity, and create jobs. CECA looks forward to working closely with our members and Highways England to deliver these ambitious plans, which will mark a new chapter for connectivity in our roads network, to the benefit of businesses and communities in all parts of England.”