Road Block is a project of Transport 2000

The Case Against Roadbuilding

Road building creates more traffic growth, increases CO2 emissions and pollution, destroys communities and habitats and diverts funding away from sustainable alternatives that reduce traffic growth. It is possible to have a thriving economy without increasing traffic growth.

Roadbuilding creates more traffic growth - when a road is built it creates more traffic growth - the well documented phenomenon called 'induced traffic'. This means that extra traffic (suppressed demand) fills the new space created, and we are back to square one with clogged roads and more traffic. This was most notably observed by the government's own advisory committee - SACTRA - in its 1994 seminal report Trunk Roads and the Generation of Traffic. It can be observed daily with the notorious M25 motorway which, with additional lanes, simply becomes a longer and wider traffic jam. Induced traffic makes roadbuilding a futile and ultimately destructive activity - creating more traffic and aggravating the problem.

Climate change - As road building creates more traffic, this contributes to increased carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which cause life threatening climate change. With road transport currently contributing 21 per cent of UK CO2 emissions [1], it is absolutely vital that we reduce traffic growth. At current predictions traffic will grow by 40% by 2025 [2]. This growth will be facilitated by roadbuilding. If this growth occurs then road transport will become one of the largest contributors to UK CO2 emissions as all other sectors' emissions fall. Other measures to reduce road transport's contribution to climate change (such as biofuels and cleaner car engines) will be wiped out by the CO2 increases created by traffic growth [3]. If we are to truly face up to climate change we have to accept that we will have to use our cars less, not pretend that we can get around the problem with techno fixes.

Pollution - As traffic grows so do its associated pollutants. Vehicle exhaust fumes have been linked to a range of serious illnesses including asthma. Although vehicles are slowly getting cleaner, this is outstripped by traffic growth, which is fuelled by roadbuilding.

Communities and habitats - In urban areas, new roads sever communities and destroy people's properties. There is nothing you can do if the government want to 'compulsory purchase' your home for a road. In rural areas, new roads usually destroy valuable habitats and impact on protected species. Our biodiversity is under threat like never before and these species and habitats are protected for very good reasons. However, despite legislation protecting these habitats and species, there is always a discretion to allow roadbuilding, making a mockery of this so-called protection. Once a road is built new development usually follows, degrading the land further.

Roads steal money from alternatives - roadbuilding is hugely expensive. In 2006 the cost of a mile of new motorway was £28.4 million, whereas a mile of dual carriageway was £15.3 million [4]. The price of roads is also rapidly increasing due to initial underestimating of costs, and rising oil, fuel and materials costs. On average, from first approval to most recent cost estimates, prices have gone up an average of 67 per cent for trunk roads and 45 per cent for local roads [5]. Currently the government has approved a staggering £12 billion road building programme. Investing in alternatives to roadbuilding means much better value for money. For longer trips this means investing in better buses, train services or trams. However over a quarter of car trips are under two miles which could be cycled or walked [6]. Simple measures to make cycling and walking safer and more attractive could do more to reduce congestion and pollution than any expensive road scheme, and would save the nation a large amount of money tackling obesity. Recent trials by Sustrans for the government have shown that simple direct marketing of alternative options resulted in up to 13 per cent fewer car trips in a short period of time, at little cost. See


It is not hard to sympathise with residents who have to cope with heavy traffic through their communities. However the promised relief is often short lived as new traffic fills the space created (see Case Studies below). Bypasses will often channel more traffic further down the road, pushing more traffic jams onto other communities which is grossly unfair. It is usually local traffic which is the problem, not through traffic, and this traffic will remain despite a bypass. Instead of creating extra road space which will exacerbate the problem, lower cost and less destructive options exist which will actually solve the problem rather than shoving it elsewhere temporarily. The solutions will depend on the specific local example. The solutions are as individual as the communities themselves. If HGVs are the problem, a lorry ban needs to be enforced to divert the lorries onto the trunk road network where they belong. If the school run is the problem then school buses, or safe cycle and walking routes to school might be the answer. If commuting clogs up the roads then maybe local employers need to implement green travel plans, and encourage car sharing through financial incentives. The attractive solutions are numerous and low cost and will make our communities better to live in and our society healthier. We must become part of the solution, and stop being part of the problem.

The roads lobby groups will pretend to have a community's interests at heart when it lobbies for more 'bypasses'. In fact it is simply supporting the vested interests of its members by ensuring the continuation of billions of pounds worth of construction contracts. They are not interested in solving transport problems, or solving climate change; they just want to maintain the status quo for as long as possible to create maximum profits for themselves.


Recent research for the government's watchdog Countryside Agency and the charity CPRE [7] showed how three bypasses from the 1990s had failed to deliver the promised benefits. In each case traffic had risen much faster than predicted, with levels predicted for 2010 already reached within a few years of opening. In Blackburn the traffic levels rose so fast within a few years residents were calling for another bypass, rather than learning the lessons. In Newbury the notorious bypass has caused traffic levels in town, on the new road, the old road and surrounding roads to rise a massive 50 per cent within a few years of opening, and had reached 2010 traffic levels by 2004. Newbury is more gridlocked at rush hour and the new road has increased road accidents massively. In Polegate local businesses have resorted to placing signs on the new road to encourage traffic back into town as their businesses are dying as people are going further afield.





The government has embarked on a massive roadbuilding programme since going back on its 1997 manifesto commitments to reduce traffic growth and end road building. The government has completed 75 road schemes since 2000 (view list here). In addition to that, the government has approved over 200 road schemes that are going through the planning processes and could be built shortly - unless we stop them! This is a level of roadbuilding that rivals the Conservatives 1990s road building programme, and is insane in an era where action to prevent catastrophic climate change should be central to every policy decision taken. Road building has no place in the 21st century and we must take urgent action to prevent climate change by reducing traffic growth. The issues could not be more serious.



[1] DfT et al (2005) – Transport Statistics: Great Britain 2005 - 31st edition, 20 October 2005, The Stationary Office, London, Table 3.7, pp. 53 and Table 3.8, pp 54.

[2] Future of Transport White Paper Assumptions, Freedom of Information request, published 21 March 2005

[3] UK Climate Change Programme 2006, Defra, 28 March 2006, Section 2, page 63, Impact of transport on carbon emissions from 1990-2010.

[4] Written Answer, Hansard, 4 May 2006 -

[5] Data from Written Answer of 24 May 2006 -

[6] Transport Statistics of Great Britain (TSGB) 2005, DfT -

[7] Beyond Transport Infrastructure, by Lilli Matson, Ian Taylor, Lynn Sloman and John Elliott, published by CPRE and the Countryside Agency (CA), July 2006