£300m traffic jam-busting scheme made some journeys longer – report

Some projects resulted in increased congestion during off-peak periods.

Some of the worst traffic hotspots were targeted by the pinch point programme
Some of the worst traffic hotspots were targeted by the pinch point programme

Traffic jams have been made worse on dozens of major roads by a project designed to tackle bottlenecks, a Government-owned company has admitted.

Highways England revealed a £317 million pinch point programme often resulted in benefits for rush hour journeys after one year which were outweighed by delays at other times of day.

Longer journey times during off-peak periods cost £5.6 million in the first year, compared with shorter journeys at peak periods which had a benefit worth £5.1 million.

The RAC described the findings as “very disappointing”.

Nearly half of the schemes with an objective to cut journey times failed to achieve that goal.

The location of projects which resulted in increased congestion with the most expensive economic costs include:

– The junction of the A5 and A49 in Shrewsbury, Shropshire (£2.5 million)

– M6 junction 23 in Newton-Le-Willows, Merseyside (£1.5 million)

– M40 junction 9 in Wendlebury, Oxfordshire (£1.0 million)

Highways England published the figures in a recent report after evaluating the first-year impact of nearly half of the 119 schemes, which were carried out on England’s motorways and major A roads.

It believes the negative impacts were predominantly caused by the introduction of traffic lights.

The report concluded that it must consider the impact of projects “across all 168 hours of the week, not just the 10-30 peak hours”.

Future schemes must “better consider how to mitigate the downsides while maintaining the upsides”, the document added.

The pinch point programme was established in 2011 to relieve congestion, stimulate growth in local economies and improve safety.

Small-scale projects generally costing up to £10 million were chosen, with work often involving junction modifications, adding traffic lights, widening slip roads and new signage.

The programme was largely delivered by Highways England’s predecessor, the Highways Agency, and was completed by March 2016.

RAC head of roads policy Nicholas Lyes told the Press Association: “It’s very disappointing that Highways England’s work to tackle pinch points on its road network has not been as successful as had been hoped.

“While congestion has been reduced at peak times of the day, unfortunately many schemes have seen increased traffic at off-peak periods, mostly due to traffic lights being introduced.

“Luckily, it seems as though there are some simple steps that can be taken to improve the worst of these new off-peak traffic flow issues, such as changing signals to work part-time instead of full-time.

“It is also important to realise that this work was not just about reducing congestion and that many schemes have seen small reductions in the number of road casualties.”

A spokesman for Highways England said: “This report shows that overall, these schemes … were successful at tackling congestion at the busiest times and improving safety.

“This useful insight is helping us develop improved appraisal methods for small-scale schemes, which in turn help us deliver improved benefits to people using our motorways and major A roads.

“Meanwhile, we are considering a range of options to improve journeys by using traffic signals which respond to traffic flows.”

Recent Department for Transport figures show motorists suffered a 3.9% increase in delays on major roads last year.

The data suggests driving along a 10-mile section of road with a 60mph limit typically took 11 minutes and 34 seconds compared with 10 minutes in free flow conditions.

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