The legislation is on course to receive Royal Assent by March 2015, before the general election in May.
A key element of the legislation is reform of the legal status of the Highways Agency, turning it from an arms’ length government agency to a government-owned company, giving it the same status as Network Rail. In practice, this means that its budgets will be fixed for five-year investment periods.
From April 2015, the Highways Agency will be replaced with a new organisation called Highways England.
The Office of Rail Regulation will also monitor road network management, while the rail passenger representative body Passenger Focus will be renamed Transport Focus to provide road users with a voice in how roads are managed and maintained.
The Highways Agency has already published the first five-year business plan that will be adopted by Highways England.
The 54-page strategic business plan sets out broad commitments, including:
- Building 400 miles of extra capacity by creating a spine of smart motorways
- A safety programme that builds towards the vision of no-one harmed on the strategic road network
- The introduction of a new standard for A roads known as ‘expressways’ with modernised junctions, refuge areas and advanced technology to keep traffic moving
- Substantial resurfacing of the network and reducing noise at 1,150 locations
- Producing a national cycling strategy by the end of 2015
- Reducing the impact of incidents by clearing 85% of motorway incidents within one hour
- Creating a new company with the right capabilities and effective working with suppliers.
A more detailed delivery plan will be published before Highways England starts operating in April 2015.
Highways Agency chief executive Graham Dalton said: “This is another important milestone for England’s motorways and major A roads. Our strategic business plan makes it clear that in order to deliver investment of this scale we need to work smarter, build strong relationships and provide a really good service for our customers. This will allow us to provide a network that offers better journeys on better roads enabling growth across the country.
“The plan is ambitious and sets out a vision where safety means no-one should be harmed on our network; where minimal disruption means planning roadworks better over the next five years; and modernisation means more ‘smart’ motorways and a new standard of A road turning them into ‘expressways’. When we realise this vision it will make a real difference for the four million people who drive on this network every day.”
The Highways England strategic business plan can be downloaded at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/highways-england-strategic-business-plan-2015-to-2020