This aims to end the tradition of 'predict and provide' - where road space increases to meet demand - and instead to manage the network more effectively and improve its condition while encouraging alternative methods of transport. Motoring groups have accepted that predict and provide is dead, but said the Government had gone too far with the cuts.
They claimed ministers have yet to deliver any firm examples of an integrated transport network - the main thrust of last month's white paper - and said essential car users will have no alternative but to sit in ever-longer traffic jams, costing the country billions. The Government inherited a £6 billion programme of 150 schemes from the previous administration, a figure already slashed from 500 schemes in 1990.
It has now cherry-picked 37 new roads, widenings and improvements, costing £1.4 billion, which it believes will have the biggest effect on transport efficiency, having already given the go-ahead for 14 a year ago. Other announcements in the paper include £100 million more for trunk road maintenance, providing a total of £300 million for the next year to keep the road network running smoothly.
Behind the Government's thinking lies research which says the proportion of the trunk road network suffering serious congestion will increase from 14% in 1996 to 26% by 2016 and journey times on urban motorways will increase 70% in the same period. But the new road-building programme, to be carried out over the next seven years, is dwarfed by the annual pot of £30 billion which motorists pay through fuel duty and road fund licence fees.