Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is wrong to claim Smart Motorways cannot be stopped. He could cancel the seven new schemes right now if he wanted to, to save lives and prevent rising carbon emissions. He should start with the proposed M6 J21a-26 scheme, which Highways England are currently promoting, with construction planned to start at the end of March. Our research shows Highways England continue to use the old unsafe design standards for this new scheme, with widely spaced emergency refuges. Their own figures show the M6 scheme will cause an extra 101 crashes and an increase of over 4 million tonnes of carbon emissions over the next 60 years.
Shapps recently called controversial ‘Smart’ Motorways (where the hard shoulder is removed and converted instead into a live lane) “insane” and a “misnomer” when he appeared in front of the transport select committee. However, his rationale for continuing with these ‘death traps’ is that the only alternative was to go back to outdated, twentieth century predict-and-provide motorway widening, leading to unacceptable amounts of land take and house demolitions. Of course, this is not true, and the obvious solution is not to add any lanes at all, but instead start to reduce road traffic to cut road deaths and carbon emissions.
Smart Motorways are controversial due to the many avoidable and tragic deaths when motorists break down with nowhere to go, when they cannot reach a refuge and cannot get out of the car. In the last month, two separate Coroners have asked for Smart Motorways to be put under review and for Highways England to face corporate manslaughter charges. A group of bereaved relatives are campaigning, as Smart Motorways Kill, to have Smart Motorways scrapped, and are seeking a Judicial Review of the decision to proceed with them.
Apart from the obvious safety issues with these dangerous motorways, what is less known is their huge impact on climate change. Adding an extra lane by converting the hard shoulder increases capacity which leads to more traffic, and therefore higher carbon emissions. There are seven new Smart Motorway schemes in the Government’s £27.4 billion RIS2 roads programme. Our research has shown that six out of these seven new schemes would lead to an increase of over 8 million extra tonnes of carbon due to increased traffic, at a time when we need to rapidly decarbonise transport.
Construction work has started on just one of these seven new schemes. There is still time for Grant Shapps to cancel the rest, to save lives, save money and cut traffic and carbon. It’s time to prioritise safety and tackling climate change over pointlessly trying to beat congestion and making the situation worse. As Grant Shapps has admitted there is nothing ‘Smart’ about these motorways and it’s time he called a halt to them right now.
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