Congestion is forecast to rise 63% and cost the UK economy £21.4bn by 2030 according to a joint study by INRIX and the Centre for Economics and Business Research in October 2014.
London is regularly gridlocked. Major cities such as Manchester and Birmingham do not fare much better, with Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce estimating that local businesses lose £3m per day. It is clear that improvements need to be made to the road network. In addition to commercial journeys, employees commuting to work are also impacted by congestion.
Smart motorways are being championed by the government as the primary next step in combatting traffic congestion and within six months of the M42 scheme opening the Highways Agency reported;
- a 27% reduction in journey times
- a 4% fall in fuel consumption
“In the Manchester area, road users are currently suffering like never before”, comments Alan Locke of AYCEN Garages. “Until late 2017, motorway journeys on the M60 will continue to be delayed by the region’s smart motorway upgrades. Roadworks affect much of the city centre while the tram network is extended and the sink hole on Mancunian Way only made things worse”, he adds.
“With the hard shoulder intelligently being opened at certain times and variable speed limits continuously being updated by computers, it should allow a greater volume of traffic to use upgraded stretches“, Alan continues. “Except for when accidents occur or occasional tailbacks arise, traffic flowing smoothly should improve business productivity and revenue. Businesses such as couriers, for example, would be able to accept more jobs on a daily basis”.
Safety concerns remain, though, some arguing that should a vehicle break down in a live lane, resultant tailbacks could be worse than before the upgrade.
“Statistics currently don’t directly attribute smart motorway introduction in the UK with a boost to the economy”, concludes Alan. “By commercial and private motorists weathering the worsening of traffic conditions while smart motorways in their region are developed, I hope that all road users will eventually benefit once the disruption dissipates”.
Of course, smart motorways cannot be relied upon as the sole fix for the UK’s congested roads and should be assessed as part of a suite of improvements and initiatives, including incentivised car-sharing, flexible commuting hours and, eventually, autonomous vehicles travelling in road-trains for ultimate efficiency.