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Road and infrastructure engineering

It is not only the car itself that has been transformed over the last 20 years. The road infrastructure has also seen dramatic advances. But whereas there appears to be an acceptance of charging for using tunnels and bridges, charging for roads is still a contentious issue.

Road user charging

Road user charging covers a variety of systems which require motorists to pay for using roads. Until relatively recently, this has been restricted to tolls on key road bridges in the UK. The application of road user charging has since spread and now includes Toll Roads (such as the M6 Toll Road) where motorists pay to use a defined section of road and congestion charging (such as the London Congestion Charge) where drivers pay to use a designated zone, normally comprising a city centre.

There is a mixed picture on motorists' views towards road user charging. The one emerging theme is that many are yet to be fully convinced by charges:

  • 39% of motorists felt that Toll Roads had a positive effect on tackling congestion levels
  • 34% agreed with the principle of congestion charging in order to reduce traffic

The one certainty is that motorists' views towards road user charging have become gradually more positive over the last 20 years. In 1989, 9% of motorists said that they supported road tolls on motorways for solving congestion, while 14% supported congestion charging for city centres.

Congestion charging is now a part of many motorists' driving experiences.

Durham achieved the distinction of being the first city in the UK to introduce a charge for entering a part of the city in October 2002. London's Congestion Charge, introduced in February 2003 by the then newly elected Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, is probably the more famous though. It was extended to cover more of central London in February 2007. Although these two remain the only operational systems, the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Shrewsbury, Cambridgeshire and Bristol were all given Government funding in 2005 to look at road charging.

Whereas the Durham system is relatively simple in that it only applies to one road, with drivers paying via a simple machine to exit the system, the London scheme is far more complex, using automatic number plate recognition technology to monitor vehicles coming into and out of the congestion zone.

Managing road traffic

With motorways costing more than £29.9m per mile to build and the current widening of the M1 from Dunstable to the M25 projected to cost £308m, road building is an expensive way to ease congestion.


Active Traffic Management (ATM) is one example of technology providing a less expensive solution. Nationally, more than half of motorists believe that ATM has a positive effect on traffic management and 84%1 felt hard shoulder running, in these circumstances, was safe. Approval of ATM increased to 74% and 63% respectively in the West Midlands and London, which have direct experience of the system and its benefits.

RAC calls for:

  • Confirmation from Government that profits from any road pricing schemes will be re-invested in roads and public transport. In addition road tax should be reduced or zero rated if plans for national road pricing schemes are implemented. These actions should help address public scepticism about road pricing and enable an open debate about the difficult challenges we face.
  • Current Government plans for hard shoulder running and ATM should be implemented in their outlined timescales. These schemes should also be rolled out on all suitable motorways, with thorough feasibility analysis and targeted public communication and driver education. As our research has suggested, RAC recognises we cannot simply build ourselves out of congestion.

Important Dates

M40 opened

The Queen Elizabeth II Dartford Crossing

The Channel Tunnels

Skye Bridge
M25 variable speed limits
Thelwell viaduct

New Severn crossing opened

Durham city charges

M6 Toll opened
London congestion charge

M42 Variable Message Signs (VMS)

London congestion charge extension

I routinely check tyre pressures and wear and tear, the engine oil level, radiator fluid level and windscreen washer levels. Other than this, I rely upon regular service checks by a professional motor mechanic.

Ian, motorist

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