Sean O'Grady: What kind of nation can't maintain its own roads?

The benefits of an efficient, fast road system accrue hugely to society as a whole

Share
Related Topics

Near where I live in south London there is a toll road. It runs past the posh public school Dulwich College, and I always thought that it was some quaint leftover from its foundation in the 17th century, and that the bloke who sits in the little booth ought to be wearing a tricorne hat and be asking for a shilling or a farthing for passage.

He doesn't. He wears an anorak and charges a quid. The last time I went past, I was being driven by a minicab driver from Kosovo. He found it odd that such a thing should still exist in Britain.

Foolishly, perhaps, he had assumed that the UK had reached such a pitch of fiscal and political sophistication that we could fund our roads through general taxation. At most points in the past 100 years he'd have been right. Now, thanks to David Cameron and Justine Greening, "modernisers" in name only, centuries of progress are being reversed.

Tolls, we are told, are the only way of paying for improvements to the highways. Really? Are our politicians so pathetically incapable of making the case for road transport alongside all the usual public favourites such as kidney machines and nursery schools?

It would seem that they are. So we have to rely on private companies to fund, imperfectly, what is, in reality, the greatest of public goods. For the benefits of an efficient, fast road system accrue hugely to society as a whole, not just to the company reps and delivery firms who pay the tolls. To people who never drive, in fact.

Faster distribution means lower shop prices for all. It means plant and machinery and building jobs waiting for spare parts, components and materials have held up for shorter times. Good roads mean more jobs, easier trade within the country and with the rest of the world.

Where public transport is difficult or expensive, good motorways mean a happier Christmas, Easter, Mothering Sunday, or any time when families want to be reunited.

"Turnpike" is the ancient, ugly name for this ancient, ugly idea; it deserves to be left in the past, and in backwaters such as Dulwich.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable