The biggest expansion of the motorway network for over 10 years will go ahead to the cost of £7bn.
Large parts of the M25 and M1 will be widened from three to four lanes and Transport Secretary Alistair Darling also proposed long-term plans for nationwide road charging.
Environmental campaigners say the road building will not solve congestion and will cause health problems, as well as further spoiling the countryside.
Will the government's proposals reduce congestion? Should road charging be extended?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The comments below reflect the balance of opinion we have received:
The only thing that will reduce congestion is fewer cars. The money should be going into improving our dire public transport services moving large numbers of people from place to place rather than placating the selfish individual motorist who views travel as a solo experience. We are a relatively small island and logic dictates that we can only accommodate a finite number of cars without sacrificing our countryside and ultimately ruining the nation's health.
Jake S, UK
If congestion is the problem here, why not encourage more employers to allow employees to work from home?
All that will happen is that he volume of traffic will increase until the new roads get blocked. Then what? More roads and the cycle continues. The only way to break it is to improve public transport.
Nigel Pond, Brit living in the USA
I live in a village that has been surrounded by a motorway widening scheme for the past 3 years.
You would think this would leave me anti-widening but the opposite is the truth.
Finally we have a safe, uncongested and quiet(!) local road system to replace the overcrowded, noisy and dangerous 2 lane motorway it replaced.
Widening will never be the universal panacea, but neither should it be assumed that it is never worthwhile.
I may well be missing the point here, but if they charge us to use congested motorways, aren't people just going to clog up ordinary roads instead? Perhaps introducing a viable public transport system (like the one we used to have before Dr Beeching destroyed it) might help matters - they'd just have to get rid of the bureaucracy which prevents trains from moving first, of course.
Why not keep the M25 as it is and make it a one way system. After all it's not a great distance all round. Also the idea of making lorries keep to certain lanes would certainly be welcome.
Jan Jobbins, UK
Environmental campaigners say that road building will cause health problems and spoil the countryside. However, if transport is allowed to move through the enhancement of further lanes then engines will not run as long so reducing exhaust emissions and if they are moving stress levels will reduce as a consequence of not being stuck on a motorway tailback. As for ruining the countryside Prescott has already done that with his house building schemes.
Steve Hemmings, England
The £7 billion being spent on new roads would surely be better spent renationalising the railways and upgrading existing lines and reopening rural ones. This would be in keeping with the idea of an integrated transport policy that Labour once believed in. But then they used to believe in a lot of things, didn't they?
It's good to see the government adopting a measure to help people do what they want, rather than punishing them for doing it and demonising the perfectly natural desire to travel under your own steam, in the company of your choosing, and the timetable that suits you. Efforts should not focus on taxing and bullying us out of our cars, but on improving fuel cleanliness and efficiency and improving the delivery and pricing of alternative services like rail. Here's to more carrot, and less stick.
Dawn, Cardiff, Wales
It has been proven time and again (and admitted by this government) that building more roads does not alleviate congestion nor add to "economic prosperity". The government has taken a short sighted decision to see it through the next election. What will we get? More pollution, more global warming, continued congestion, no improvements in public transport or quality of life. If we do not make radical changes now, our roads will be gridlocked for a hundred years - or until the oil runs out!
As always government has taken the soft option in pandering to the "road lobby". The car, road haulage and construction industries have got their way again. More roads, more traffic more delays.
This country has an appalling road network linking towns and cities. How roads with a single lane in each direction can be classed as 'A roads' is unbelievable. How roads with two lanes in each direction can be classed as "motorways" is incredible. The South-East has been badly served by successive governments and their hopeless traffic advisers; some of the best roads serve the North-East and the North-West.
Widening the motorways to 4 lanes will buy a few years of smoother traffic flows and then, as with ALL previous widenings, we will be back to the same position as today except that £7bn will have been spent with serious environmental damage. Do our politicians never learn? Or are they just trying to keep the business and motoring lobbies happy?
Craig Belfield, UK
Is it not time to bite the bullet now before the entire country is under bitumen? Remove private cars now!
John Meekings, Australia
Why not do as they do in some American cities and have lanes which you can only use if there are at least 2 people in the car? This would make us try harder to car share and use our cars more considerately.
So the government wants to introduce road charging to give us 'more choice.'
The trouble is, we don't have a choice when we drive. We have to get to and from work, hence the rush hour. We can't make these journeys at non-peak times, so we will just have to grin and bear it.
The railway companies cash in every day on peak-time travel. Now the government wants a slice of the cake - as if they don't tax the motorist enough already!
Steven Tierney, UK
Get real! A lot of motorway congestion is caused by people nipping on/off the road for short distances. Charge them the fuel costs we pay and a lot of this would disappear and so would the school run syndrome. I fail to see why our countryside should be crucified for the car in areas where public transport exists in reasonable cost/frequency. If people hate traffic congestion, why do they contribute towards it?
Basically I welcome the proposals for the M25 to be 4 lanes each way. This has been long overdue.
However, I certainly don't welcome at all the so-called "feasibility study" of the big brother congestion charging. I believe this big brother nonsense is not only another smokescreen to cover up environmental pollution caused mainly by industry, but I believe serious consequences will result if this loony goes ahead, which would include rampant unemployment because of businesses being forced to close down and/or relocate, with crime rising as a result. What is really needed is a common sense approach where there should be a reform of the income tax system.
Phil Ade, Kent
The way I understand the current situation is that the government wishes to charge us (motorists) to use congested motorways during peak times. Now most of the time motorway traffic keeps moving even during busy peak times until there is an accident, and you would expect the side of the motorway involved in the accident to slow or even stop! But why does the traffic in lanes travelling in the other direction also slow down? It is because motorists slow down to see what's going on. Why can't fences be built between the two carriageways thereby restricting motorists' view of the other carriageway? This would probably cost less than the feasibility study for toll charging! Or is toll charging just another way "New Labour" have found to impose yet another duty/tax on the poor motorist?
Whatever happened to the integrated transport policy?
I don't disagree with more roads in certain locations if it is a step towards a truly modern and well thought out distribution system.
What I do disagree with is the idea that a blanket increase in capacity will lead to anything other than increased demand in the future.
Personally, I cycle to work, and bought my house with that in mind. It's not that hard.
Richard Johnson, Australia (UK Citizen)
With the congestion, often at peak times, has anyone considered the effect "just in time" deliveries to commerce has on the motorways? At peak periods there are convoys of heavy lorries. Often in attempting to overtake the lorry takes up to seven miles to pass. This effectively blocks the two lanes (two thirds) of the motorway . Why not have timed periods when there is no overtaking by lorries?
Cliff Jones has made two very valid points about' just in time' deliveries, and the number of lorries on motorways. In Holland lorries are not allowed out of the inside lane from 7-11am and 3- 7pm.On the four lane stretch of the M25, it is not uncommon to see three heavy lorries stretched across three lanes effectively causing traffic to slow. Better lane management and encouraging lorries to travel during off -peak hours will at least alleviate things.
Steve Perry, UK
Why can't we build a road network system underground? Other countries eg Italy and Switzerland can have road systems that go through mountains, why not just build a network of underground roads on essential routes?
Margaret Bardall, England
I support road building but I think the government keep doing things piecemeal. Instead of one extra lane each way why not add two or three and clear the bottleneck forever? We have widened the same stretch of some roads twice - Preston bypass is one example.
David Wilson, England
Accepting that we live in a society where the car has become a necessity rather than a luxury, maybe the government is missing a key factor in this worsening situation - car ownership. For a start, the use of much smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles should be encouraged much more vigorously than it is at present.
British industry has to be able to transport raw materials and manufactured goods as efficiently and cheaply as possible to compete in the world. Their employees have to travel to work. We cannot adopt a "head in the sand" attitude and hope congestion will drive vehicles off the road - the government is being two-faced in continually talking about more jobs, more trade and not providing the infrastructure to facilitate it all.
David De Burgh, UK
I think that a road toll should be introduced (rather than a tax increase) for any roads which benefit from an extra lane - but only until the cost of increasing the size of the road has been repaid by the tolls, at which point it should become free again. I believe this idea was used for a major bridge reconstruction in Canada some years ago, and seems like a very fair option to me - If you use it, help pay off the debt!
How can they even think of allowing people to use the hard shoulder in peak times? Do cars not break down during rush hour? I foresee many accidents if this goes ahead.
Jan Ciepkiewicz, UK
"You don't mop the floor while the tap is still running" (from a Dutch expression). Or: We had better fix the problem at the root, which means discouraging people from getting in their cars.
Perhaps if they stopped working on the roads for more than five minutes there wouldn't be a problem with congestion. The government have a cheek to charge you congestion charges and the same time constantly 'work' on the roads. I suppose that is our backward government for you!!
A one lane increase would be more than filled by the time it is operational in ten years time. Why not plan for a two lane increase instead? Any road charging must be offset by a reduction in fuel duties.
£7 billion to be spent on the roads? How far would that go to alleviating the rail fiasco we are now in?
New railway lines and the moving of heavy freight from major roads to rail would be more appropriate. As for road charging, we already pay road fund licence, fuel tax and insurance tax. If this isn't charging us for using roads then perhaps I'm missing something?
There must be some very influential lobbyists out there working on behalf of the road construction business, if the government is prepared to swallow the ignominy of this most obvious and public U-turn.
Andrew Cover, London, UK
All various governments have had trouble with this problem. Motorists want more roads, the environmentalists don't. The rail system is unsatisfactory to say the least. Perhaps, as an ease to congestion, the answer would be to convert the railways into roads for the use of heavy vehicles and buses/coaches only?
We already have road charging. Speed cameras are milking motorists everywhere, we also pay vehicle excise duty, fuel duty, VAT on new vehicles, VAT on servicing and tax on our insurance premiums. There can be no justification for charging cars to use the roads again. Before the cyclists start their usual smug line of argument I have a suggestion that would certainly reduce congestion on the roads where I live.
Our local authority has spent a fortune on a purpose built, safe network of cycle paths that links the whole town together. However, the cycle paths are generally empty and motorists still have to contend with cyclists riding on the roads, often right alongside designated cycle paths, at the busiest times of the day. Vehicles cannot get around them without taking risks and so we often have long lines of traffic caused by one solitary, selfish cyclist. If there is a cycle path then it should be compulsory to use it, then perhaps those of us that have paid to use our vehicle on the roads may get about a bit more quickly and safely.
"Speed cameras are milking motorists everywhere"? Not if motorists stick to the law, they're not.
Building more roads is not the answer because while in the very short-term the roads may ease congestion, their existence merely encourages people to attempt to travel further and further for regular journeys until before long the same congestion problems are reached again. A large part of the answer has to lie, as John M suggests, in encouraging people wherever possible to work and shop more locally. And put some of the road-building money towards the mess that is the nation's railways.
"u-turn" by New Labour. I suppose if there is too much Parliamentary opposition to building new roads in England they can always rely on Scottish & Welsh MPs to get it through. What is the point of a political manifesto? Like other Labour dossiers of late, it ain't worth the paper it is written on.
Roger Morgan Freedlan,
So much for the investments into public transport, and the entire transport policy.
Giving tax breaks to people who live near to work and, perhaps, also extra tax charges on those who do not will do more than anything else to reduce congestion. Varying mortgages, house prices, water, electricity, gas and internet charges on the same basis would add to the attraction of avoiding commuting. Long journeys on public transport also waste resources, pollute and congest.
Such a scheme would not harm commercial or pleasure activities as would blanket tolls. It would have to apply only to new employment and living locations and not be retrospective. There would also have to be protection for young people starting work whose family home happened to be in a remote area.
John M, LyneMeads,UK
To John M: I have to travel approximately 1500 miles per month now to get to and from work. It used to be approximately 4000. I work in the South, and live in the North. I cannot afford to live down in the South. Maybe if the government encouraged companies not to locate in the South, it might help. If the government do decide to start charging road tolls, then this might just make quite a few people stop work altogether. I pay for my own fuel, then road tax, servicing, insurance etc.
A pervious government said get on your bike. I did, as did quite a few others, and now we could be penalised. I have tried the trains but they are too expensive, slow and dangerous and there are not many buses. Steve, UK
To say Britain has less motorway miles per capita than France or Germany is simply to state that we are overcrowded compared to them. Building roads isn't going to make the overcrowding any easier. There MUST be a concerted effort to improve the railways, to get long distance freight off the roads, the primary cause of congestion on the motorways (just look at your picture).
Long distance trucks have to be penalised so hard that railway and water transport become the only real viable option. In the end we all have to pay through increased cost of goods, but isn't that a price worth paying? I'd willingly pay an extra 20% on my food bill to never be stuck in another M25/M1/M6 tailback. And who really needs strawberries in January anyway?