M25 Private Finance Contract - Public Accounts Committee Contents

2  Consideration of hard shoulder running as an alternative to road widening

7. In 2003, the Agency and the Department for Transport (the Department) decided to widen the M25 rather than adopting a flexible procurement strategy which could accommodate other solutions to address congestion. At that time, the Agency had insufficient evidence of the effectiveness of alternatives to widening, such as hard shoulder running, which provides additional capacity by allowing drivers to use the hard shoulder at times of peak congestion. This technique was first trialled in Europe in 1996, but the Agency did not announce a trial until 2001. The contract for the trial, on a section of the M42, was let in 2003.[12]

8. When this Committee examined the Agency's approach to tackling congestion on England's motorways in 2005, it concluded that the Agency had been inhibited by a risk averse culture resulting in it having fallen behind other leading countries in adopting traffic management measures. We recommended that the Agency should design pilots with clear objectives, budgets and timescales; choose suitable sites unaffected by other factors; and establish adequate data collection procedures prior to and during the trial; monitor progress regularly; and evaluate the outcome quickly to enable faster roll out if appropriate.[13]

9. But the Agency was not satisfied with the general benefits and savings potential of hard shoulder running until July 2008, some seven years after its original announcement to trial this approach. In 2009, shortly before letting the M25 widening contract, a programme of hard shoulder running became part of the Department's policy for managing motorways and major trunk roads. The Agency now plans to use the approach to relieve congestion and improve journey time reliability on two other sections of the M25. [14]

10. In March 2008, the then Secretary of State for Transport requested reassurance from the Agency that motorway widening remained the best solution. The Agency's response supported the case for widening. It used cost estimates that showed that savings from hard shoulder running would be more than offset by additional costs, such that hard shoulder running appeared to be £53 million more expensive than road widening.[15] However, in response to our questions the Agency accepted that the additional maintenance costs of £193 million for hard shoulder running used in this analysis should have been discounted to reflect the fact that these costs would be incurred over the 30-year life of the project.[16] This decision to stick with widening was therefore substantially influenced by a technical error in the calculation. Had this error not been made, these costs would have been reduced by at least half, changing the bottom line which would have shown hard shoulder running to have been the cheaper option.[17]

11. The Agency did not, therefore, have a thorough estimate of the cost comparison between widening and hard shoulder running as a means of dealing with congestion on the M25. The National Audit Office estimated the savings that a conventionally procured hard shoulder running solution could have provided compared to the privately financed widening of the M25 as potentially ranging from £400 million to £1.1 billion.[18]

12   C&AG's Report, para 8 Back

13   Committee of Public Accounts Twenty-fifth report of Session 2004-05, Tackling congestion by making better use of England's motorways and trunk roads, HC 134, conclusions 1 and 2 Back

14   C&AG's Report, para 17 Back

15   C&AG's Report, para 3.4 and Figure 10 Back

16   Qq 114, 115, 121 Back

17   Qq 116-120 Back

18   C&AG's Report, para 19 Back

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