21 June 2007

Wider motorways, wider motorways, and wider motorways

It's probably a good idea for a government to build a basic road infrastructure, but whether taxpayers should fund much beyond that is questionable:
The [British] government's Highways Agency is offering £1.6bn to a private consortium to widen around 60 miles of the M25 to four lanes in each direction. It will take five years to build, will swallow tens of thousands of acres of greenbelt land, encourage yet more people to travel by car - and it will end up costing the taxpayer more than £5bn. Source
Also in the UK, it is costing £21 million per mile to widen the M1 motorway. The cost of the total M1 widening project has risen from £3.7 billion to £5.1 billion. Interestingly, for the cost of widening 1.2 miles of the M1, the Scottish Executive will be able to cut class sizes in Scotland to 18 pupils in the first three years of primary school by employing more than 500 new teachers.

Ok, it is not self-evident that allocating scarce resources to wider roads rather than better primary education is wrong. The question though, is does it reflect society's wishes? Who is making these decisions, and on what basis? As the disconnect between politicians and the people they are supposed to represent becomes ever wider, perhaps the most direct route for concerned people who want to make a difference is to become a celebrity:
As serious public and political life has withered, so celebrity culture has expanded to fill the gap, often with the encouragement of political leaders desperate for some celebrity cover.

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