Toll relief road ” has failed” report claims

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Traffic jams around Birmingham are at least as bad as they were before the road was opened as motorists refuse to pay to use the 27-mile stretch which was intended to end gridlock on the M6.

The report by the Campaign for Better Transport, an environmental group, comes at a time when the Coalition has said it believes that private investment will be needed to pay for more motorways.

The M6 toll road, which runs around the north west of Birmingham, opened in December 2003. It was designed to take some pressure off one the busiest stretches of the motorway in Britain.

When it opened, drivers were charged £2 to use the road. A series of above inflation increases has seen the bill rise to £5.

This has coincided with the number of motorists willing to pay falling dramatically, the study says.

In the spring of 2006 it attracted just under 60,000 drivers a day. By the start of this year, the figure had fallen to just over 40,000, marginally more than when the toll opened.

Those who are willing to pay can enjoy a far quicker journey during the rush hour, especially when travelling southbound when using the relief road takes around 40 minutes – about half the time needed on the M6.

But at other times the time saving is marginal – in many cases little more than five minutes. This, the Campaign says, means the toll is poor value for the motorists.

Meanwhile there is little evidence of congestion easing significantly on the M6 itself, the report says. Any gains which might have been made have been eroded by steadily increasing traffic levels.

The Campaign says that the Highways Agency itself has admitted that by 2008 traffic levels on the stretch of the M6 running parallel to the toll road were as they were before it opened.

“The M6 Toll has provided so little congestion relief that the Highways Agency has been forced to allocate hundreds of millions of pounds for additional capacity,” the report adds.

Proposals include allowing cars to use the hard shoulder during the rush hour. But this, according to the Campaign, would cost between £300 to £500 million.

“Toll roads are not, and will never be, a solution to congestion on Britain’s roads, no matter how attractive they may appear to cash-strapped politicians desperate to deliver otherwise unaffordable road schemes,” the report concludes.

However an AA spokesman defended the M6 toll road. “Drivers who use it are happy to pay the premium, because it avoids the horribly lorry-congested M6.

“Macquarie who built the toll described it as one of the jewels in the crown. The drop in traffic has been a reflection of the economic situation.

“It will be very useful when the economy improves and does have a major role to play in the national network.”

A Department for Transport spokesman added. “The construction of a privately funded and operated toll road was not the only answer to cutting congestion on the M6.

“While it is making a contribution, the Government is also considering other transport initiatives to ease congestion such as hard shoulder running schemes and the development of a national high-speed rail network with the first route running between London and the West Midlands.”

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