West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has appointed a new congestion buster in chief to ensure that Birmingham’s road network is not crippled by works on the HS2 and other major transport projects.
Traffic congestion already costs the regional economy more than £2 billion a year as well as causing frustration to thousands of commuters a day.
With construction work due to begin on the HS2 rail line through East Birmingham next year, extensions of the Metro tram network under way and plans to reopen key rail lines the Conservative mayor has decided that he needs a troubleshooter in place to keep the region moving.
And he has appointed Birmingham City Council’s assistant director of transport Anne Shaw to the newly created post of West Midlands director of network resilience.
Her job is to coordinate action between the councils, Highways England, HS2, Network Rail, the Department of Transport and train and bus operators to ensure road works are coordinated and disruption is minimised.
The mayor and his West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has already secured £6 million funding from Government to take action at congestion hotspots like Holloway Head and the Scott Arms junction.
And they are bidding for £40 million more, as well as traffic enforcement powers, from Government to make a bigger difference to the roads around the region - such as by enforcing yellow box junctions on main routes.
Mr Street said that behind all this is major investment in rail, metro, buses and cycling. “We’ve got to give people alternatives to their cars. Capital investment is going into rail, metro, cycling and critically improvements in bus provision.”
The mayor has recently met Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to press the case for the Black Country metro extension and is in talks with Network Rail over reopening disused rail lines such as the Camp Hill Chords. A new West Midlands Rail franchise is also due to be announced this month promising major improvements when it takes over from London Midland at the end of the year.
Mr Street said that this is all longer term, but for the more immediate congestion problems he, and the WMCA, has appointed Anne Shaw as director.
“If we think the traffic is bad at the moment, it could get much worse when we start investing many hundreds of millions of pounds, such as when HS2 goes ahead.”
One such issue could be the closure for up to 18 months of the Saltley Viaduct - a crucial part of east Birmingham’s road network. While other works will have to be carried out in sequence rather than at the same time.
“To build HS2 there’s got to be 13 interventions on the motorway network so this has got to be planned very carefully. We are thinking about this at a regional level.”
He said they have already go support of the major players including the Department for Transport and Highways England. “That we’ve got all the national agencies involved is a bit of a breakthough,” he said.
Ms Shaw, who has 26 years experience working in transport in the city, said: “The next five years promise to be challenging ones for our region as the investment will inevitably mean disruption for the public which we need to manage really carefully.
“Local authorities and other agencies need to work more strategically to both tackle congestion and minimise the impact of work. I am convinced there is the will to do this and look forward to playing my part.”
Mr Street said that progress is already being made, including the £5.8 million funding secured from the National Productivity Investment Fund for ten of the most tricky traffic blackspots and further bids in the pipeline.
Some of those being looked at for the next round are junction 6 on the M42 - which will link to the new HS2 Interchange station and Birchley Island in the Black Country.
When the WMCA and mayor were created they took responsibility for the key radial routes - the region’s major A roads such as the A452 - Chester Road.
Mr Street said: “What we are trying to do is get devolved powers, that they have in London, but we don’t have for example traffic enforcement for exmaple in yellow box juction, people are seeing utterly frustrating behaviour which leaves those routes ineffective. That’s what we want to tackle.”
One measure which will definitely not be on the agenda is the nationalisation of the M6 Toll Road, a policy proposal put forward by Mr Street’s rival for West Midlands Mayor, Labour candidate Sion Simon.