Road pressure group Transport Focus has voiced fears that Highways England does not have the funds to cover planned improvements to some of the country’s major roads.
The concerns come after the publication of an interim review of Highways England by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).
Transport Focus chief executive Anthony Smith said: “Road users will be concerned that planned improvements to England’s motorways and major ‘A’ roads could cost more than the money Highways England has available. They’ll want to know that work to tackle congestion and improve safety will definitely still be delivered.”
In its update on Highways England’s capital planning and asset management programme, the ORR notes that ‘Highways England’s current forecast of capital costs – that is, costs of renewing and improving the network – is higher than its funding.’
The ORR say that most of the difference comes from Highways England ‘intentionally planning more work and expenditure than is funded in anticipation of some works being delayed or removed’ as a way of managing risk.
Highways England’s revised plans are likely to reduce the difference but will not eliminate them and the ORR says: “The company must explain clearly how it will address the remaining difference.”
ORR Highways Director Peter Antolik said: “Highways England is taking action to improve planning and delivery, but it must now agree a robust, deliverable and affordable approach for its long-term investment plans”
Transport Focus and the ORR has also expressed concerns highlighted in the interim review that Highways England was below its target for the condition of its road surface in 2015/16 due to deterioration in skid resistance.
“We also expect Highways England to improve how it manages road condition and to improve its reporting processes around critical data.,” added Mr Antolik “We will be monitoring these areas closely and take action if improvements are not delivered.”
Road condition has since improved, but remains below target and Highways England has committed to produce a road condition improvement plan.
Mr Smith added: “Our research shows that road surface quality is drivers’ highest priority for improvement to England’s motorways and major ‘A’ roads. So, road users will be worried that the condition of Highways England’s roads is below the target set by the government. They’ll expect to see a clear plan to get surface quality heading in the right direction.
“This type of assessment, aligned to our road user research, should result in road users getting what they need. Transport Focus is currently researching exactly what road users’ want to see improved when it comes to road surfaces, working closely with Highways England.”