Roads carry 90 per cent of UK passenger traffic and 70 per cent of freight. Their efficiency, therefore, has a major impact on the wider economy, and even in London, where rail is much more important. But recent governments have neglected the road network, with little new investment since the early 1990s. Policy has instead focused on pushing passengers and freight onto the railways.
This anti-roads strategy has been costly – and not just through exploding rail subsidies. The annual cost of traffic congestion is now estimated at £20bn. But the biggest losses come from the failure to build new infrastructure where it is needed. Longer travel times reduce labour mobility and raise the costs of trade. Poor road links translate directly into lower productivity and living standards.
The basic problem is that the road sector is outside the market economy, with the supply of new capacity almost totally divorced from demand. As a result, hundreds of congested towns across the UK are still waiting for a bypass, and several major cities lack good motorway connections.
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