Grant Shapps last night vowed to ‘carefully study’ a damning report from MPs into smart motorways.
Significantly, the Transport Secretary did not rule out pausing their construction and said the inquiry had made ‘a lot of great points’.
He also praised the Mail’s undercover investigation into safety failures on the controversial roads.
He said that he would not act until next year and could face backlash from campaigners who want smart roads to be scrapped or put on hold.
On Tuesday, MPs called for a halt to the construction of ‘all-lane running’ motorways, where the hard shoulder is removed, until more data was available showing they are safe. The Commons transport committee’s report called for emergency laybys retro-fitted to existing schemes so that they are closer together.
MPs have asked the government to halt the rollout of smart motorways because of safety concerns regarding the removal of a hard shoulder
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, said that he will carefully consider the contents of the report prepared by MPs
The MPs also accused road chiefs, ministers, and others of not paying attention to safety concerns.
Mr Shapps told the Mail last night: ‘It’s been a great investigation and campaign from the Mail, and I take this incredibly seriously.
‘We’ve warmly welcomed the transport select committee report, which makes a lot of great points. Now, we need to compare their recommendations with the data.
‘One of the great recommendations is to use the Office of Rail and Road to check the data more broadly, and I agree with that as well.
‘So there’ll be more action on this and that action will start immediately, with a formal response in the new year.’
Officials are understood to have advised against a knee-jerk reaction because pausing the rollout of ALR smart motorways could leave several stretches of unfinished road coned off – and potentially dangerous – until the end of 2024.
Greg Smith, Tory MP and member of the transport committee, asked Mr Shapps for prompt action.
He said: ‘The pressing and urgent concerns in the select committee report, coupled with the heartbreaking evidence from the families of those who lost loved ones on smart motorways, require a rapid response from government.’
Yesterday, a former senior transport official stated that smart motorways have not improved journey times and could even be harming the economy.
David Metz, who was chief scientist at the Department for Transport, accused road chiefs of using ‘biased’ modelling to justify the £6billion investment. And he said the ‘benefit-cost ratio’ was in fact likely to be negative for vast stretches of the network.
‘If better economic modelling and analysis had been done, we wouldn’t have been investing so much money in these roads,’ he said. ‘So to a degree, this money has been wasted.’
Dr Metz stated that National Highways analysis failed to predict the additional traffic on M-roads when the hard shoulder was made into an extra lane.
Data from freedom of information requests he filed showed daily traffic on one section of the M25 grew by 16 per cent – more than double the average elsewhere – three years after it became a smart motorway
Data from freedom of information requests he filed showed daily traffic on one section of the M25 grew by 16 per cent – more than double the average elsewhere – three years after it became a smart motorway. It meant that the initial speeding-up in traffic seen in the first years after the M25 opened in 2015 was erased by the third.
He suggested that this was likely because motorists were switching to smaller roads. His findings were submitted to the Commons Committee. They showed that National Highways used consulting firms to project additional traffic.
Dr Metz, who is now a visiting professor at University College London, said: ‘There’s a lot of optimism bias in the modelling.
‘Consultants like to please their clients so there’s a bias to provide the kind of outcomes expected.’
Sarah Olney, Lib Dem transport spokesman, said: ‘It would be ludicrous for the Government to press ahead with these plans when it’s abundantly clear that there are safety pitfalls.’
Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder, said: ‘We have had a report saying that safety on these roads is not guaranteed and now the benefit-cost ratio is not there, so it’s just an unpicking of the whole package. It’s been coming slowly for a long time, but the whole package has failed.’
On Monday, she organized a protest for the return of the hard shoulder at Westminster.