Contractor Galliford Try has won £435m of major road upgrade contracts from Highways England as part of a £8.7bn programme of work on England’s motorways and major roads.
But the contracts and overall programme, which is likely to drive considerable growth in traffic, are taking place despite the UK having committed to Net Zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
The latest contracts, part of the Regional Delivery Partnerships framework, include two major road upgrades. The first of these is the A47 corridor improvement programme around Norwich and Peterborough, stretching from the west of Peterborough to Great Yarmouth. This includes three sections to be upgraded to dual carriageway as well as two junction improvements. The programme is scheduled for completion in 2024, subject to planning consent.
There are also substantial upgrade works planned for the A47 in Cambridgeshire, involving 1.5 miles between Wansford and Sutton being converted to dual carriageway, and a roundabout upgrade at the A47/A141 junction in Guyhirn. More dualling along 1.5 miles is to take place between Blofield and North Burlingham, and along 5.5 miles between North Tuddenham and Easton. The A47/A11 Thickthorn junction is also to be upgraded.
The second major scheme is the Sparkford to Ilchester dualling scheme along the A303 corridor in Somerset. The proposal is to "dual a three-mile single carriageway section of the A303 between Sparkford and Ilchester, with new two-level junction access with local roads and communities, cutting congestion, reducing journey times, protecting biodiversity and improving access and safety for all road users", says Highways England. It adds that: "The A303 Sparkford to Ilchester scheme is currently awaiting planning consent and due to start construction in March 2020."
It adds that Highways England is to upgrade all of the remaining single carriageway sections of the A303/A358 between the M3 and M5 up to dual carriageway standard, in line with the Government’s Road Investment Strategy.
There are also plans to upgrade the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down as well as the A358 between the M5 at Taunton and the Southfields Roundabout on the A303, it says. The 7.5 mile upgrade including a tunnel near Amesbury is aimed at reducing congestion near the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, but the controversial plans have been opposed as damaging by environmental and heritage groups, while the National Audit Office has said there are risks and uncertainties over delivering its aims, its timescale and budget.
The advisory Committee on Climate Change’s report in May recommending a Net Zero target for 2050, since adopted, expressed frustration at the slow progress of decarbonisation, not least for transport. It said the 2040 phase-out date for petrol and diesel cars and vans "is too late", while "current plans for delivering this are too vague". It called for an earlier date of 2030 or 2035 at the latest for switchover to electric vehicles (EVs) and greater support for development of the charging infrastructure.
Meanwhile, road traffic accounts for more than a fifth of UK emissions, and while fuel efficiency has risen this has been overwhelmed by a faster increase of a third in traffic since 1990. Emissions from road vehicles rose 6% from 1990 to 2017. EV uptake has grown sharply but still accounts for just 3.5% of the UK fleet, while petrol vehicles have risen 1% to 64%, although diesel has fallen 12%, according to August statistics from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Under these circumstances, further expansion or upgrade of the road network can only significantly worsen greenhouse gas emissions and work against meeting the UK’s carbon budgets out to 2050.