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In a consultation document published today National Highways is proposing switching its focus from increasing capacity of the road network to motorway renewals and sub-£25m works to remove localised congestion hotspots and accident blackspots.

The Strategic Road Network Initial Report for 2025-2030 sets out National Highways’ advice to government on immediate priorities for the trunk road and motorway network.

The report says that National Highways’ work is likely to increasingly focus on making the most of its existing network through maintenance and improvement works. Most motorways were built in the 1960s and 1970s and now require extensive renewal, the report notes.  

It is also proposes spending more money on footpaths, cycle paths and bridleways, and on providing motorists with more real-time and personalised information on roadworks and delays, and the availability of electric vehicle charging points.

The Department for Transport will consult on this initial plan to inform the development of its draft road investment strategy (RIS) for the third road period, from 2025 to 2030 (RIS3).  Any decisions on National Highways’ proposals will also be subject to decisions on levels of funding for the five-year period, which are yet to be finalised.

National Highways was forced into a rethink after its smart motorways programme –

Converting hard shoulders into running lanes – was brought to a halt by the government because of widespread safety concerns. Fourteen major projects were cancelled.

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The Initial Report will be subject to an eight-week consultation by the Department for Transport. It is published alongside National Highways’ long-term strategic plan, Connecting the Country and its environmental sustainability strategy.

Over the second investment period from 2020 to 2025 (RIS2) National Highways expects to have completed a £10.5bn programme on the strategic road network.  However, several projects intended for RIS2 but delayed due to political and environmental sensitivities, include the A303 tunnel near Stonehenge, the Lower Thames Crossing and the A66 Northern Trans-Pennine dualling scheme. Despite the proposed focus on maintenance and improvement works in RIS3, these projects remain in the RIS3 action plan although they are unlikely to be completed by 2030.

Anti-roads campaigner Chris Todd, director of the Transport Action Network, said: “Carrying over major climate busting schemes from RIS2 to RIS3 like the Lower Thames Crossing, A303 Stonehenge, and the A66 Northern Trans Pennine shows it’s business as usual for the DfT, which continues to drag its feet on climate action. It’s like it’s reheating yesterday’s leftovers, rather than coming up with anything appetising.

“Instead we need a radical roads reset to give people and freight greener ways to travel. We need a strategy to reduce congestion, not make it worse by building more roads and increasing traffic.”

National Highways chief executive Nick Harris said:  “Our network of motorways and A-roads has a critical role to play over the next 30 years in supporting growth and levelling up. They bind together the regions and nations of the UK, facilitating national and international trade, and even under conservative forecasts demand for the network will continue to increase up to 2050.  

“While we strive to maintain safe and reliable journeys for the vehicles that rely on our network each day, we know that ever higher levels of social and environmental responsibility will, quite rightly, be required of us. This means we will need to find new and innovative ways to continue connecting the country by facilitating active travel and public transport, and also using digital technology to help customers make more informed decisions and managing our network more efficiently.”

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