Mersey Gateway bosses welcome ‘growing consensus’ for action on roads following latest think tank report
The team running the Mersey Gateway project – which is working to build a new crossing across the River Mersey between Widnes and Runcorn – has today (Weds 16th Jan) backed the findings of a new report that says Britain’s roads are ‘unfit for purpose’.
The report, Towards Better Transport, newly published by centre-right think tank the Policy Exchange, says Britain has the most crowded and congested roads, the fewest motorways and some of the worst public transport amongst leading industrialised countries.
Councillor Tony McDermott, Leader of Halton Borough Council and Chair of the Mersey Gateway Executive Board, said: “This report is the latest in a series of studies from across the political spectrum that shows there is a growing consensus that we must take action to tackle the growing problem of our outdated road network. Local people and businesses in and around Halton need a more reliable and more effective transport system, and the Mersey Gateway is central to this.”
Steve Nicholson, Director of the Mersey Gateway Project, said: “This report shows congestion is a national issue, but one we must tackle locally. We have a special problem here in Halton with the bottleneck created by the Silver Jubilee Bridge, which is why another crossing is vital. Building a new bridge will not only deal with congestion but also give us an opportunity to substantially improve public transport locally and make a major contribution to the long-term regeneration of the area by creating new jobs and attracting new businesses to Halton.”
The report says the future cost of congestion is likely to exceed the current £20billion a year and that the problem is now spreading from large cities to smaller towns and motorways, and talks about ‘relatively small’ road charging schemes on congestion hotspots helping to pay for improvements.
It also highlights the importance of improving transport systems before introducing any charges, and backs PFI (private finance initiative), the funding mechanism the Mersey Gateway project has chosen, as the best way to do this.
David Parr, Chief Executive of Halton Borough Council, said: “Tolling is the only way we can deliver the Mersey Gateway – the government will simply not fund the whole project and tolling means that all users, not just Halton residents, will contribute to its cost. However we are developing a tolling scheme that will provide discounts for local residents. It is also very important for us to improve the road system and public transport locally so that everyone can see the benefits before we start to pay for them.”
A Department for Transport spokesman reacted to the Policy Exchange report by saying: “The government is committed to tackling congestion and is making record investments in transport. However, we know we cannot simply build our way out of congestion. That is why we are working to get more from our existing roads through innovations like active traffic management and by providing better information to road users. Road pricing – alongside public transport improvements – has the potential to cut predicted congestion growth by nearly half.”
The government agreed terms on which the Mersey Gateway scheme could be funded in March 2006. Subject to the project meeting certain conditions, the government is funding £86 million of the £390 million with the remainder being raised through a Private Finance Initiative.
The Mersey Gateway will run from the Central Expressway in Runcorn to the Eastern Bypass in Widnes and ultimately connect with Speke Road heading towards Liverpool. It will be a tolled crossing, and the new bridge will have three lanes in each direction across the river. The route has been carefully chosen so that there are no inhabited residential properties directly affected by the project.
The Mersey Gateway planning application will be submitted this spring. Due to the scale and importance of the project there is likely to be a public inquiry into the new crossing before the Secretary of State for Transport can give final approval. Construction work on the project is due to start in 2011, and it is scheduled to open to the public in 2014.