Delayed report gives smart motorway negative benefit cost ratio

07/09/2021
Chris Ames

National Highways has been forced to release two key reports on smart motorways following a Freedom of Information request from Highways.

These include a five-year post opening project evaluation that showed that a scheme on the M1 is on track to have negative journey time benefits of nearly a quarter of a billion pounds over 60 years rather than forecast benefits of nearly £1bn.

Overall, the scheme is forecast to have a benefit cost ratio of minus 0.8, compared with a forecast of 1.4, meaning that the scheme is making things worse in terms of monetised benefits while in operation.

In the foreword to the report on the junctions 10 and 13 dynamic hard shoulder scheme, which opened in December 2012, Elliot Shaw, the government owned company’s executive director, strategy and planning wrote: ‘The evaluation findings indicate further action is required over the scheme’s 60-year lifecycle for it to meet its appraised value for money objectives.’

The report states: 'To evaluate the monetary impact, we compare the observed journey times against a forecast of the savings then assume the ratio is indicative of the long-term trend to derive the 60-year outturn monetised benefits. Applying this to the observed journey time impacts in the first five years indicates that if the scheme remained on this trajectory the monetised impact on journey times would be -£225m.’

The report notes that the forecast journey time benefits for the scheme over 60 years were £996m and that it cost £489m to deliver, compared with a forecast of £606m, due to lower construction costs than forecast.

It adds that: ‘The appraisal had forecast that the scheme would deliver greater benefits for journey times over the 60-year assessment period for a larger number of road users and that in the first five years of the road being opened to road users, the evaluation had not observed the level of benefit in line with the assumptions within the business case.’

The report states: 'The evaluation observed little change in journey times for road users travelling northbound in the pm peak. For all other time periods, in both directions journey times have increased as shown in Figure 9.'

The Department for Transport also released the conclusions of the Office of Road and Rail analysis of safety statistics for smart motorways.

AA president  Edmund King said: ‘We are pleased that this further analysis of the performance of smart motorways has been made public.

‘We believe that controlled motorways with a hard-shoulder are the safest option and for other stretches, installing more emergency laybys on the existing network, in our view, will help improve both safety and driver confidence.

‘Analysis shows that the forecast benefits have not been realised in some places, resulting in slower journey times, lower speeds and lower levels of economic benefit compared to assumptions.’

The report was one of two that came to light following an FOI request from Highways to what was then Highways England .

As Highways has reported, transport minister Baroness Vere told the Transport Select Committee in June that she would supply the reports in approximately two weeks but had since blocked their publication.

As part of the smart motorway stocktake in 2020, transport secretary Grant Shapps ordered all dynamic hard shoulder smart motorway schemes to be converted all lane running, describing the schemes as 'confusing'.     

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