Anger at £2.5bn plan to widen motorways

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The Independent Online

Ministers were accused yesterday of abandoning their campaign to persuade motorists to swap their cars for public transport, as the Government registered its determination to press ahead with a £3.5bn programme to widen Britain's busiest motorways.

The Highways Agency announced that 67 miles of the M25 would be enlarged from three lanes to four at a cost of £1.6bn. The Government's programme of major road schemes includes a £1.9bn plan to widen 53 miles of the M1 in the Midlands.

Steve Hounsham of the environmental group Transport 2000 accused the Government of throwing money at a problem but with no real solution in prospect.

He said: "Road widening will not work in the long term. It might go down well with motorists but they'll find there's little to smile about because these schemes will all increase traffic and will lead to bigger, wider traffic jams.

"Why does the Government continue to duck the real issues to solve congestion and other problems caused by traffic? We must reduce our use of cars, not plan for ever greater use."

Tony Bosworth of Friends of the Earth said that pressing ahead with motorway widening amounted to "the triumph of hope over experience". He said: "The Government's priority should be giving drivers high-quality alternatives to car use, not building wider motorways."

The two schemes, tentatively aired some months ago, will not start before 2006 and could take 10 years to complete. Yesterday's announcement follows detailed assessments of the two schemes by the Highways Agency, which is responsible for major roads in England.

The M25 work, which will result in most of the 119-mile orbital road having at least four lanes in each direction, is in addition to the widening to five lanes under way on its busiest section to the west of London near Heathrow.

In the Midlands, the M1 scheme will see widening between junction 21 south of Leicester to junction 30 north-east of Chesterfield in Derbyshire. The work will also include a new bypass of Kegworth in Leicestershire on the A6.

Archie Robertson, the Highways Agency's chief executive, said that the plans would enable road users to enjoy safer and less congested journeys, and support economic growth. He said that, during the design phase, the agency would be investigating the impact on the landscape and on nearby communities.

Paul Watters of the AA Motoring Trust said the two motorways were among the most congested in Europe, and needed improving.

He said: "The £3.5bn expenditure over 10 years is just a tiny fraction of what UK drivers will pay in taxation over that time.

"The money earmarked for these improvements wouldn't attract such a fanfare in France or Germany, where investment well beyond this is routine. If the UK is to have a world-class transport system, the Government must invest at world-class rates."