I’ve just returned from a two-week driving trip in the USA. Although faced by the same financial stringencies we face here in the UK – it was notable that investment in transport, and roads in particular, seems to be continuing apace.
Everywhere we went from California to New Jersey, there was money being invested in transport infrastructure despite the recession.
Perhaps the USA understands better than our Government in the UK that the efficient movement of goods and people is an essential element in any economic recovery.
Public spending is tight, but we should be targeting money where it is needed now to make UK plc more efficient as we emerge from the recession.
The contrast between America and Britain was brought home to me during the very week I returned. Whereas the traffic had flowed well in all our travels across the USA (even, when we were there, in Los Angeles!), the first drive on a commuter route in Britain took almost an hour to cover 15 miles – and it wasn’t even the rush hour!
That is inefficient, financially wasteful and environmentally damaging (longer journey = more fuel + more emissions). For businesses where time = money, the equation is financially crippling.
We all know that recent governments have used the environment as an good excuse to divert money away from road building programmes and roads maintenance.
I should know, having just had a very painful reminder of the appalling state of our roads. I had to spend £150 replace a perfectly good tyre damaged irreparably by one of far too many craters. (Don’t let the authorities fool you, last winter was only the nail in the coffin, lack of maintenance over the past decade is the root of the current road disintegration.)
The problem is that our transport infrastructure is so poor and our roads are so far behind in terms of maintenance, that it is difficult to see us ever catch up.
And that is a worrying prospect, not just for road users, but for the wider UK economy and all who depend on it for their livelihood.