June 16: Beyond the rail vanity projects, roads go to rack and ruin

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From: Stuart Green, Sparken Close, Worksop.

WIDESPREAD traffic chaos was caused on Monday of last week by the closure of the M62 following a serious lorry crash (The Yorkshire Post, June 9). The extended closure led to increased traffic on other routes, not least the Woodhead Pass (A628) which was badly affected with stationary traffic in both directions between the Flouch Inn and Mottram over 14 miles distant. The problem was exacerbated by the Snake Pass (A57) being totally closed for repairs.

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, “passionately” supports the creation of a “Northern Powerhouse” economy stretching from coast to coast. However, it remains a total mystery how this might be achieved without provision of modern cross-Pennine roads backed up with improved railways.

Better railways, yes, but how can the Chancellor back the expensive HS2 and HS3 vanity projects when Department for Transport (DfT) statistics consistently show that roads are massively more important to the UK economy than rail? Nationally, the distance covered by road passengers is 10 times greater than by rail and seven times more freight is transported by road than rail. Despite inland “rail ports” having advantages for long-distance bulk freight, they cannot ever replace most lorry journeys needing door-to-door delivery.

Apart from constructing the now overfull M62, little has been done to improve trans-Pennine roads in the past 50 years. The A628 has long needed massive upgrading including tunnelling at the summit of Woodhead and a short distance under the Mottram area to join the M67. Such upgrading would considerably improve trans-Pennine road connectivity for the wider Sheffield City region and all regions beyond, both east and west of the Pennines.

DfT latest statistics show revenue from fuel and excise duty topped £32bn in 2013 but, in the same year, only £3bn was spent on national road improvements and £5 billion on local roads. Beleaguered motorists may ponder these derisory amounts while stuck in the next long queue, or as they hit yet another of the bone-shaking potholes which permanently deface the roads of our inner cities.

Unless the Government faces up to the problem and invests massively in essential cross-Pennine and other roads, the Northern Powerhouse is certain to remain a figment of Chancellor Osborne’s vivid imagination.