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Roads (Resurfacing Costs)

Volume 975: debated on Wednesday 5 December 1979

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asked the Minister of Transport what is the current annual cost of resurfacing motorways and trunk roads.

Costs of structural repairs to road surfaces during the 12 months ending 31 March 1979 were about £30 million and £22 million for motorways and trunk roads respectively.

In view of those two staggering figures, which are far higher than the figures that went into the cost benefit analyses for making recent roadways, does the Minister agree that they amount to reconstruction on more elaborate specifications than those that were used in building the roads? Does he further agree that to meet the damage caused to these roads by heavy axle loads the haulage industry should pay higher licence fees?

These are old schemes under which the weight of traffic—particularly heavy traffic—using the motor- ways was underestimated. It is necessary to reconstruct some motorway to handle modern traffic.

Will my hon. Friend consider the possibility of repairing motorways at night and at weekends, when most of us do not use them? That would save motorists millions of pounds even if it would not save the Government very much.

We are anxious to take such steps as can be taken to reduce the long delays that are suffered when motorists encounter repair spots. The increased use of night and weekend work is being encouraged and increased.

Does the Minister accept that the increased weight of traffic to which he referred has grave implications for the way in which his Department determines traffic levels for setting road standards? Will he examine the roads on which the additional traffic is giving rise to high maintenance costs to find out whether the estimates on which those roads' standards were based were the minimum of a wide range of estimates? Will he also ensure that the figures that he has for accurate traffic flows are fed into his model to ascertain the implications of the increased traffic for other parts of the road network?

We are, of course, talking about the building of motorways 15 years ago, and the traffic forecasts then were considerable underestimates of the present heavy loads. Traffic survey methods have been greatly improved and far more sophisticated methods are used. We have to take care to make sure that we are not again providing roads at too low a standard for the realistic load of traffic.

Will the Minister confirm that if lorries with a 40-tonne axle weight were allowed into this country the cost of resurfacing trunk roads and motorways would increase dramatically?

That is one matter that the Armitage committee will have to consider, and it has expressly been asked to look at future weight limits on lorries. In that context we shall also be looking at the tax paid by the heaviest vehicles, and we have announced that we intend to alter the rate of vehicle excise duty on the heaviest road vehicles.