Wednesday, March 22, 2017

News: Value for money of major transport schemes questioned

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The Value for Money promised by large Government funded transport schemes like the multimillion pound "Smart Motorway" schemes through Rotherham is at risk, according to a report by the National Audit Office (NAO).

The NAO scrutinises public spending for Parliament and has published a report into the Government's Road Investment Strategy which was published in time for the 2015 election. It concludes that it is an important step towards better long-term planning of England's strategic road network but added that the speed with which it was put together has created risks to deliverability, affordability and value for money which could be carried forward into future road investment periods.

Covering the period 2015 to 2020, the strategy involved investing £15.2 billion in over 100 major schemes to enhance, renew and improve the road network. It included the £106m Highways England scheme to convert the hard shoulder of the M1 through Rotherham to an extra traffic lane in both directions and variable mandatory speed limits.

Work by contractors, Costain, is due to complete by the end of this month on a ten mile stretch of the M1 between junctions 32 (south of Sheffield and Rotherham) and 35a (north of Sheffield and Rotherham). A 20 mile stretch of the M1 between junction 28 (South Normanton) and 31 (Aston) is also benefiting from a smart motorway project costing £205m where four lane running began last year.

The schemes are designed to deliver benefits at a significantly lower cost than conventional motorway widening, and with less impact on the environment during construction.

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The NAO said that the Department for Transport planned the Strategy in 17 months, in order to publish it before the May 2015 General Election. As a result of this, the Department selected projects without knowing whether they would be the best value and 54 of the 112 projects are currently scheduled to start in 2019/20, which could cause significant disruption to motorists.

It added that by August 2016, the amount by which forecast capital costs exceeded available funding had increased to £841m at the same time as Highways England being asked to achieve efficiency savings.

As a result, Highways England is now reviewing the portfolio of enhancement projects to improve value for money, and has so far identified 16 projects which present a risk to value for money. Highways England and the Department are exploring a number of ways to manage this risk, including revising project design, cancelling projects or delaying projects to enable further assessment of benefits.

The NAO also warned that the follow up strategy, for the period after 2020, is at risk due to current performance. £8.3 billion has effectively committed to road enhancement projects in from 2020 to 2025. It includes studies into a potential Trans-Pennine tunnel and further Smart Motorway projects in the region.

Highways England has set out proposals for a project for four lane running on a stretch of the motorway between Rotherham and Wakefield which would ultimately help create a smart motorway all the way to Leeds.

In the 2016 budget, the Government confirmed that funding would be made available to accelerate an M1 smart motorway scheme from junction J35a to 39.

Highways England

Images: Highways England


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