“Britain’s road network is operating at maximum capacity”

Mike Rutherford is alarmed at the state of Britain’s roads, with queues tens of miles long and politicians who don’t give a damn

Opinion - traffic

I know a bit about languishing in traffic jams. For starters, there are my miserable memories of being trapped in one all day and night – thanks to striking French workers who set fire to a wall of tyres blocking the main, and only, road out of town.  

Then there was the international incident I got caught up in while competing in the Paris-Beijing Rally and attempting to drive out of Kazakhstan into China… as you do! I and other drivers in the bonkers event weren’t allowed to cross the remote border until we acquired our ‘legally necessary’ Chinese number plates. We waited for so long to submit our paperwork and receive our local plates that our queueing cars doubled as our makeshift hotel rooms.

But it gets worse. In mid-April and back on home soil, I can honestly say that I got caught up in some of the worst traffic jams I’ve ever witnessed anywhere on this planet – and I’ve driven almost a million miles across 70-plus countries on six continents.

Despite travelling outside the rush hours on the day before the inevitably busy Good Friday, my planned drive from southern to northern England was sabotaged. How so? Anti-roads/anti-oil protestors in and around London, reported queues of almost 40 miles on routes to and from a Dover area crippled (for a month or more) by P&O, plus a closed tunnel at the gridlocked, hell-on-Earth Dartford Crossing. I achieved average speeds of circa 100 metres an hour. The congestion was so bad, unacceptable and hopeless that I saw and photographed some car occupants abandoning their cars and continuing on foot.

Me? After half a day of burning fuel while going nowhere as I idled in jams of biblical proportions, I gave up and headed back home. Not even the French industrial action or Chinese red tape left me feeling as hopeless, frustrated, and unwilling and unable to proceed.  

It’s time to tell it like it really is. In terms of the quality of new cars, we’ve never had it so good. But in terms of fit-for-purpose roads we’ve never had it so bad – at least not in the four decades I’ve been driving.

The tipping point has been reached. We’ve hit an all-time low. Queues tens of miles long, paralysed roads, gridlock, and politicians who don’t give a damn are all the new norm.

Britain’s network is at best operating at or beyond maximum capacity, and at worst worthy of an ‘unfit for purpose’ notice being slapped upon it. Transport Secretary Shapps needs to stop making embarrassing videos promoting his daft self and his even dafter hoodie and sunglasses. Instead, he has to re-introduce apparently taboo (to him) words such as ‘motorists’, ‘cars’ and ‘car-users’ into his vocabulary. Then he has to sort the roads.

And if he can’t do that, it’s time for him to pass the job to somebody who can. The likes of Shapps, Grayling, Byers and Prescott have proved that career politicians tend to be lousy transport secretaries or ministers. Maybe it needs a non-politician (a Branson or a Musk-type, perhaps) to run our roads, which have been bought and paid for several times over by some of the most heavily taxed motorists in the world. We deserve better.

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