Depending on your viewpoint, being told that there’s nearly 900 separate road works planned between now and December 2021, which could lead to thousands of days’ worth of delays, could be a good or terrible thing.

Of course, no one likes sitting in traffic jams, road works have become the bane of modern motoring, (well, that and being treated like a portable cash machine), but is there an argument in favour of these works?

Damned if you do…

It’s easy to sit here, staring out of my window looking at the rolling Warwickshire countryside and complain about being delayed while driving virtually anywhere thanks to roadworks, but I also have a foot firmly in the other camp: “We pay all these taxes, duty on fuel, VED, anti-pollution, congestion charges and look at the state of our roads … potholes big enough to crack a wheel and punch your suspension strut through the bonnet”.

No happy medium, unfortunately.

There’s an argument for carrying out the roadworks overnight (where possible), but that would lead to extending the overall length of time, a further increase in costs and overhead as the roadworks need setting up and breaking down each night, and lest we forget that ultimately, it’s the motorists that are paying for them.

… damned if you don’t

The planned road works are estimated to affect around 1 billion (913,609,699) journeys between now and December 2021, and although some major roads will be affected more, there doesn’t seem to be a geographical area that will be safe and free-flowing from these works.

The M6, in particular, will face at least 34 planned works, which the study creators say will cause disruption for 1,586 days (despite there only being just over 900 days until 1st December 2021), it’s thought that these 1,500+ days come from the extended timings for every journey affected.

The crux of the problem, at least according to Edmund King, President of the AA, is the desire to change traditional motorways into smart motorways, or as they’re now being called, ‘digital roads’.

Digital roads

Smart motorways, digital roads, whatever you call them, there’s still major concerns over road safety; over 400 miles of motorways are set to lose the hard shoulder, which has traditionally been the safety refuge for stranded motorists, despite there being inherent problems with it – Highways England announced last year that over 100 people were killed or injured every year while on the hard shoulder.

Of course, there are financial implications to the argument for digital roads vs traditional motorways; in a document on, it breaks down the costs of traditional widening, and for turning a motorway into an ‘All Lane Running’ motorway, but one particular section makes for important reading.

“Cost savings are at the heart of the Department’s justification for the permanent conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane. The Government’s preference for All Lane Running is based on the fact that extra capacity can be obtained at a 60% lower cost than traditional road widening. The fact that All Lane Running is the least costly of the scheme designs cannot be challenged. That this involves the loss of the hard shoulder, resulting in a risk to safety, is another matter and is not justifiable.”

The reality

Despite bemoaning the fact that road works are seemingly everywhere, and that we once planned our journeys based on time & distance rather than guesstimating delays due to road works, the reality is that they’re now part of daily life as a motorist, and possibly with good reason.

How we travel is changing, or perhaps the vehicles we use to travel in, are changing. Vehicles are becoming smarter, able to interact with their surroundings, to know when to switch lanes, which direction they need to go, how much traffic is around them … smart cars are getting smarter but they need better infrastructure to work to their maximum efficiency, and better infrastructure means more roadworks.

For the majority of us that drive vehicles that have no connectivity, that still use a CD player for In-Car Entertainment or rely on outdated fossil-fuels to get from A to B, roadworks are painful. But we are literally a few steps away from full autonomy, science-fiction is fast becoming science fact, and the days of the ‘Johnny Cab’ are here already, providing the environment can cope with them.

So despite the fact that sitting in traffic jams due to road works is something akin to having teeth pulled, they’re a good thing, and if we don’t benefit from them, you know that our children will.

Is there a better way to build & repair roads? Are roadworks simply a fact of modern life? Is the Govt. wrong to put money before safety? Let us know in the comments.

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