It is encouraging that the Government is giving greater credence to the view that investment in transport infrastructure has a very important role to play in fostering productivity in the UK economy. It is not all about information technology and telecommunications. Traffic congestion, on both road and rail, costs many billions of pounds each year, and through the loss of huge amounts of valuable working time, is putting a hard brake on the speed with which advances in productivity can be achieved.
There is certainly no shortage of worthwhile investments to make on transport infrastructure, but it is important that the Government chooses an appropriate mix of short-and long-term projects. Projects like a third runway at Heathrow and HS2 are very long-term projects, with gestation periods still to run of ten and 17 years, respectively. What are needed more in the context of tomorrow's Autumn Statement are shorter-term projects to relieve congestion 'pinch points' on the roads and overcrowding on many intercity and commuter trains.
There are already investment programmes running to achieve these two things: 'smart' motorways and 'expressway' A roads and, on the railways, lengthening of station platforms to accommodate longer trains. These programmes have the advantage of being able to be spread widely right across the country and, perhaps, there should be a particular focus on linkages along the east-west axis, with which the country is relatively poorly provided at the moment. These schemes also have the advantage of being relatively 'shovel-ready' and so are more easily managed by the construction industry, which is still to recover fully from being very badly hit during the Great Recession.