Regional transport consortium Sewta says that a balanced programme, including an improved public transport network as well as highway investment, must be at the heart of any proposed enhancement of the M4 corridor around Newport.
In its response to the Welsh Government’s consultation, Sewta (the South East Wales Transport Alliance) which co-ordinates transport strategy, plans and programmes for the 10 local councils of South East Wales, says the development of a comprehensive strategic transport network, including the Sewta Metro Plus concept, would reduce dependency on the M4, relieve congestion and boost economic development.
The Sewta Board, which meets in Rhondda Cynon Taf on Friday July 20th, will hear that, according to Welsh Government information, the road improvement options suggested in the consultation document: M4 Corridor Enhancement Measures Magor to Castleton (M4 CEM) - Easing the Flow, would take up to 2031 to complete. While there will be a need for highway investment, Sewta’s proposed programme for public transport improvements could also play a major role in easing congestion, given the long lead-in time for major highway schemes.
Sewta’s proposals are contained in the Regional Transport Plan and Regional Rail Strategy for South East Wales. Building on the welcomed electrification announcement, these proposals align with the goals of the M4 Corridor Enhancement Measures Programme. They would relieve the motorway of many local journeys, and allow it to cope better with its primary function of providing long-distance connectivity for people, goods and services.
Sewta says in the report that although the consultation document refers to rail electrification and existing National Transport Plan commitments, there is a strong case for a more comprehensive package of public transport alternatives. While these contribute to wider regional objectives, there would be better value for money by integrating regional and M4 CEM programmes.
The Regional / Sewta Metro Plus public transport proposals, which can play a major role in achieving the M4 CEM goals, include:
• A fully electrified rail network
• A Metro which embraces the whole Newport journey to work area
• Strategic bus priority corridors from Cardiff, Blackwood, Newbridge and Pontypool into Newport;
• A new bus interchange in Newport;
• New rail services from Ebbw Vale and Abertillery into Newport,
• Enhanced rail frequencies from Abergavenny, Chepstow, and Bristol into Newport.
• New rail stations at St Mellons, Coedkernew, Ebbw Vale Town, Crumlin, Pye Corner, Caerleon and Llanwern, mostly with park and rides
• New rail park and ride schemes at existing stations at Abergavenny, Pontypool, Chepstow and Severn Tunnel Junction
• Faster journey times, full timetable and ticketing integration, and better information, to enable seamless travel for the passenger.
In addition , Sewta says that while the focus of the M4 CEM programme is the motorway between Magor and Castleton, there are concerns that the impacts of the enhanced traffic flows achieved by the proposed highway options, on highway networks beyond this length of the motorway, do not appear to have been modelled or evaluated. There is a serious risk that enhancing motorway capacity without addressing local network issues will exacerbate existing problems on the local network.
There are also concerns at the impact of enhanced traffic flows on strategic junctions further East and West. Key issues will be the impact of increased flows on the 2-lane section at Junction 23, Magor, on Junction 32, Coryton, and on the junctions on the A48 in Cardiff. Capacity improvements between Magor and Castleton will increase the rate at which vehicles arrive at these junctions, exacerbating the ‘bottleneck’ effect, and constraining the overall benefits of the enhancement measures.
Sewta also has fundamental concerns that the data utilised in the M4 CEM consultation document is five years old, and therefore is unreliable for evaluating options. It does not take account of the impact of the Welsh Government’s own M4 Making Better Use measures programme or the impact of increasing fuel prices on road traffic growth. As a result, Sewta says there is a pressing need for an update on key issues such as congestion, journey time / reliability and safety, before any decisions are taken to commit such a scale of funding. On greenhouse gas emissions, Sewta questions the validity of the appraisal of the options, suggesting that they need to be re-evaluated with more reliable information.
A key factor which also needs to be taken into account is the potential for changes in toll levels on the Severn Bridge, which could have profound implications for traffic flows and levels of congestion on the M4.
The report also points out that a key contributor to existing congestion on the M4 has been new development close to motorway junctions, which generates a lot of local journeys. Measures are needed to inhibit further developments of this nature from gaining planning consent.
The report notes that Highway Option A, which will provide an additional crossing of the River Usk, would result in substantial additional highway network capacity and resilience. In terms of providing improved long-distance connectivity, this option would appear to have a positive effect. However, all of the options proposed have significant limitations because of the weaknesses in the evidence available to support them. “Information in the consultation document on the deliverability of the alternative options is very limited. It is evident that, with the exception of Highway Option B, the scale of the funding required will present major challenges. Highway Options A, C & D are in the range £300m to £830m.”
Councillor Andrew Morgan, the Chair of Sewta, said:
“The Welsh Government, with whom lead responsibility properly rests for the M4 CEM programme, will need to ensure that the programme represents value for money, and that all relevant funding programmes are linked into the scope of the programme. There will be a need for a wide range of stakeholders to also play a role, and closer partnership working will be needed. Funding sources beyond those which would conventionally be considered for investment of this nature will need to be identified.”
“However the funding challenges are addressed, the scale of the programme indicates that the lead in time for major highway options in particular is likely to be lengthy. There will be a need for measures in the interim, given that any major increases in highway capacity will not be deliverable for a number of years. While demand management can play a role, investment in public transport becomes not an option but a necessity. With rail electrification coming on line in 2018-21, there is a real opportunity to boost services and increase passenger numbers over the next few years. This offers a great opportunity to change travel behaviour to more sustainable patterns and ease pressure on the M4.”
“Many of Sewta’s public transport proposals have advanced well beyond feasibility stages, to include business case development, preliminary design and public consultation. The costs, benefits and deliverability of these proposals are well understood. Some schemes are already funded, some will be fundable through external programmes, and others are in implementation. This level of knowledge needs to be fully accessed to provide a meaningful public transport package for evaluation as part of this programme.”