THE road-building programme has been hit by large scale cost increases, some as much as 170%.

The huge price increases are revealed as the Government finalises its spending plans and after the road lobby has put pressure on the Government for a major programme of motorway widening.

“These costs undermine the road lobby case," said Transport 2000 Director Stephen Joseph. "If widening just part of one motorway costs nearly £2billion, their full programme would soak up all transport funding for years to come, as well as adding to traffic and increasing environmental damage.

"Cost escalation on rail projects, such as the West Coast Main Line, has had lots of publicity. Now it appears the same thing is happening on roads projects.”

 The costs are exposed by leading environmental groups - the Campaign to Protect Rural England, Friends of the Earth and Transport 2000 - which have found costs increasing between ministers agreeing schemes in principle and projects entering the roads programme.

The groups have now written to the Public Accounts Committee asking MPs to order a National Audit Office investigation.

 The four examples highlighted by the group arise from the programme of “multi-modal transport studies” commissioned by the Government. They are:

 * Widening of the M1 through the East Midlands. Multi-modal study estimate: £700million. Cost when entered the roads programme (Targeted Programme of Improvements): £1.9billion. Cost escalation: 171%

  • The A14, Cambridgeshire (Ellington to Fen Ditton Improvement). Multi-modal study cost estimate: £192million. Cost when entered the TPI: £490million. Cost escalation: 155%

  • The A453 M1-Nottingham. Multi-modal study cost: £62million. Cost when entered the TPI: £90million (May 2004). Cost escalation: nearly 50%.

  • Upgrading of the A30/A303 (London-South-West).  Multi-modal study costs: £167million. Cost after further Highways Agency study: £431million minimum. Cost escalation: 158%.

 The environmental groups want to see the Government fund public transport and local projects.

Tony Bosworth, transport campaigner of Friends of the Earth said: “For the price of just the M1 widening, we could create safe routes to every school in the country and bus lane networks in many towns and cities.

"This would help tackle transport problems by giving drivers real choices rather than generating more car use, and would be a much better way of spending the limited funding available for transport.”

 Dawn Robinson, transport campaigner for CPRE added: “With some road schemes almost tripling in cost we have to ask the question ‘what else is losing out?’.  Such large sums of money would be better spent on improving public transport and conditions for walking and cycling. This would ensure that those without a car are not left isolated.”

 The groups have been lobbying Government through the Way to Go postcard campaign which includes Railfuture and which sets out a 12-point manifesto and is backed by around 30 groups and 165 MPs.

Over 20 other studies recommended road schemes. A number of these have been approved in principle but are undergoing detailed work by the Highways Agency, and await ministerial approval. The studies also recommended investment in rail and light rail schemes, and also area-wide congestion charging.

 For further information:

Friends of the Earth - Tony Bosworth, Transport Campaigner, 020 7566 1662 or Media Unit, 020 7566 1649

Transport 2000 - Stephen Joseph, Director, 020 7613 0743 x105 or Vicky Cann, Assistant Director, 020 7613 0743 x107

Campaign to Protect Rural England - Dawn Robinson, Transport Campaigner, 020 7981 2835 or Nick Schoon, Communications Director, 020 7981 2816