Rush-hour traffic speeds on most roads increase as drivers stagger journeys

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The Independent Online

If you are reading this newspaper in a traditional Easter traffic jam, the Government would like you to know that road conditions used to be even worse.

Peak-time speeds on England's trunks roads have risen despite an increase in economic activity, according to a survey conducted by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions.

Contrary to popular belief, rush-hour motorway speeds have risen. In the afternoon peak period, they were up by around 3mph, from 56mph to 59.3mph. The biggest rises in morning peak traffic speeds were on roads in built-up areas, especially on motorways, where the increase was from 39.3mph to 44.8mph.

On trunk roads generally, average speed, at 48.8mph, was 2.6mph faster during the morning rush hour in 2001 – the latest year for which figures are available – compared with 1998. In the evening peak, at 51.3mph, they were 2.2mph quicker.

More predictably, speeds have come down considerably since the previous research was conducted in 1995.

An AA spokesman said the figures comparing 1998 with 2001 disguised the fact that there were numerous congestion blackspots which had got worse. The spokesman said that between 1995 and 1998 on trunk roads in the south-east of England the speed of traffic had slumped by 11.4mph.

A spokesman for the Department of Transport pointed out that speeds outside the peak periods had gone down generally, indicating that drivers were staggering their journeys.

John Spellar, the Transport minister, welcomed the overall improvement in trunk road speeds. "The trunk road network is crucial to the economic health of the nation. I am pleased to see that overall peak speeds have increased since 1998. There are many reasons why the speeds may have changed but one contribution is likely to have been the improved management of the network by the Highways Agency."