Prescott: 'Spy in the sky' satellites will warn motorists of traffic jams

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Hi-tech satellites to warn motorists of traffic jams ahead will form part of a master plan for transport to be announced by John Prescott today.

Hi-tech satellites to warn motorists of traffic jams ahead will form part of a master plan for transport to be announced by John Prescott today.

The new electronic system, which will be linked to devices in cars, will be part of a programme of public-sector andprivate-sector spending on transport over 10 years.

Ministers hope the increased expenditure and anannouncement that the Government has abandoned the idea of motorway tolls will bury criticism that Labour is "anti-car". Mr Prescott is expected to promote the idea of speed restrictions on motorways to help improve traffic flows, leading to the introduction of more 50mph limits.

In deference to environmentalists, there will be no new motorways. The Government's spending on roads will be largely limited to widening motorways - probably on the M6 - and also on bypasses to relieve congestion in "hot spots" around the country.

Resources will be concentrated on speeding up road maintenance projects in an attempt to minimise delays on local roads.

While in the past some road programmes have taken between 10 and 12 years from conception to completion, new measures will be introduced to accelerate them. New roads will still be subject to full public consultation, with openinquiries and government inspectors' reports, but ministers hope the "streamlining" plans will reduce the timescale of the projects by between three and five years.

Public consultation will take place at an earlier stage sounworkable options can be abandoned before too much time and money have been spent on them. This streamlining system could also be applied to other transport schemes such as railways.

Mr Prescott's statement follows the Chancellor's announcement in the spending review on Tuesday of a 20 per cent year-on-year real increase in expenditure on transport to £9.12bn in 2003-04.

The Deputy Prime Minister is expected to reveal that the £15bn spent in the past decade on the rail industry is to increase to as much as £40bn - the biggest expansion in the rail network since the 1960s.

In response to continual criticism of the performance of the ageing rail system, the extra funds will be spent on better signalling, longer trains and improved stations. New rail "bypasses" will be built to accommodate slow freight services and smooth the way for faster passenger trains.

The Deputy Prime Minister estimates that the amount of freight to be carried by the network will increase by 75 per cent and the number of passengers by 50 per cent over the next decade.

The volume of goods carried by rail has already risen by 22 per cent over the last three years. "If we are dealing with such levels of expansion we will have to have substantial increases in capacity. There will be more seats for passengers, but there will also be more train paths," said one senior Whitehall source.

In a speech delivered to the left-leaning Institute of Public Policy Research last December Mr Prescott promised "the biggest transport package, combining public and private investment, ever seen in Britain, making Britain's transport the rival of any in Europe".

The announcement last year was seen as an attempt to regain the political initiative.

While Mr Prescott's White Paper in 1998 on integrated transport was widely welcomed, the Government has been under fire since, both from the motorists' lobby for being too "anti-car" and from environmentalists for not doing enough to cut traffic.

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