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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 May, 2003, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Tackling congestion in the Midlands
By Louise Scrivens
BBC News Online in Birmingham

As charges on Britain's first private motorway near Birmingham are unveiled, BBC News Online considers the problems faced by drivers in the West Midlands.

It is ironic that England's second city is known as Britain's motor capital - a metropolis built around the car industry.

Spaghetti Junction
Spaghetti Junction has not prevented congestion near Birmingham
The surrounding area has become clogged up with vehicles as traffic levels have reached crisis point.

Birmingham, famous for years for the Spaghetti Junction interchange, will soon be bypassed by Britain's first toll motorway.

The Midlands Expressway motorway is a 27-mile stretch between junctions four and 11 of the M6.

It is due to open in January 2004, with a standard price of 3 (or 2 for the first 10 million motorists) for those car drivers who opt not to stay on the M6.

But it is not only the congested M6 - one of the busiest in the country with an average speed of 17mph - that has made driving in the region a headache.

A recent report suggested 7.5bn was needed to alleviate the current congestion problems in the West Midlands.

The West Midlands Multi-Modal Study, commissioned by the government two years ago, said most roads would grind to a halt unless radical changes were made.

Toll booths under construction
The new 485m motorway will be privately run
Recommendations made in the report included better bus services, bus lanes, new underground platforms at the city's New Street station, and tolls on some of the busiest roads in the area.

Since the report came out, bus lanes have been introduced on some roads, but Birmingham City Council told BBC News Online there were no plans for any toll roads in the city.

Jonathan Simpson, spokesman for the RAC Foundation, said one of the biggest problems facing drivers in Birmingham was parking.

He said: "The council employs contractors to monitor parking who have targets they have to meet with regards to issuing tickets.

"We have had so many complaints from people who were unfairly issued with tickets.

"Most of the people who challenge these tickets win, which tells me that most of the tickets are issued unfairly."

Gridlock

Stuart McGann, from Coventry, works in Birmingham city centre and travels 24 miles down the M6 to work every day.

He said it was imperative he arrived at the M6 by 7.25am, otherwise he faced stationary traffic for two junctions which would add 30 minutes to his journey time.

Parking in Birmingham
Birmingham council took control of parking in September 2001
There are 50 parking attendants in the city every day
164,700 tickets were issued last year
70% of these tickets have been paid

"I do find it makes it a long day. The traffic congestion into Birmingham adds two hours onto my working day," he said.

Birmingham City Council's head of transportation strategy, David Bull, said there were no plans to introduce a congestion charge in Birmingham.

The council had brought in a number of schemes to combat congestion, including a Safer Routes to School scheme which had encouraged more people to either walk or use a bicycles to travel shorter distances.

More than 150 companies in the city were involved in the Company Travelwise scheme to promote public transport to their staff, he added.

"We plan more traffic control systems to help reduce congestion and increased rail capacity through New Street station," said Mr Bull.

Council officials, civil servants and local businessmen will all be hoping that come January the new Midlands Expressway eases the area's chronic congestion.





Click here to go to BBC Birmingham Online

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