Jim O'Sullivan on RIS 2, the Lower Thames Crossing and the Major Road Network


Highways England’s chief executive Jim O’Sullivan has revealed the latest route strategy documents for the strategic road network (SRN) are to be published next month with a network report due in the autumn.

The government-owned company is preparing the ground for its second Road Investment Strategy (RIS 2), covering its multi-billion five-year budget from 2020-2025.

Jim O'Sullivan

The 18 route strategies – covering the entire network and divided into areas such as East of England and M25 to Solent – form the foundation of the RIS 2.

Speaking at a Westminster Forum conference in London this week, Mr O’Sullivan said: ‘Route strategies are due out in March. They are our best and most informed view of what our 18 routes on our network need. We are looking for comment on those routes over the summer and we will be producing a network report into the autumn.’

A strategic economic growth plan is also due to be published in March, Mr O’Sullivan said.

He also revealed he hopes to introduce a system he called ‘swim lanes’ for the future investment plans, which would provide individual five-year funding programmes for different disciplines to support contractors with more investment stability.

‘We are working in RIS 2 towards what I like to call swim lanes, so a five-year programme of maintenance, a five-year programme of capital renewals, of smart motorways, of new schemes and on top of that flagship schemes.’

Lower Thames Crossing

While the Government is yet to decide on the exact route for the Lower Thames Crossing, Mr O’Sullivan poured cold water on the idea of a joint rail and road tunnel in the area. However, he revealed the decision over lane numbers was yet to be made.

Responding to a question on the planned major infrastructure project, which is likely to become a flagship scheme in the RIS 2, Mr O’Sullivan said: ‘I think the economics of a combined road and rail tunnel, let alone the engineering challenges and risks, don’t add up from what we can see in that area.

'Also, it has significant impact on timescales. We are committed to having the tunnel up by 2025 and need to start construction by 2020. I think it's a non-starter. One thing I would say is the two lane or three lane decision has not yet been made. At the moment it is two lane.’

Major Road Network

The final report from David Quarmby and Phil Carey on behalf of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund – A Major Road Network for England – had a major impact on the sector with sub-national transport groups such as Transport for the North and England’s Economic Heartland Strategic Alliance already finalising plans on implementing some derivative system in their area.


Mr O’Sullivan revealed it was being given serious consideration by Highways England.

‘The Rees Jeffreys report is incredibly interesting. I would make two points. Firstly, as you look to regionally important roads rather than nationally important roads the business cases don’t add up quite so easily. There’s a challenge there.

‘No purpose would be served by taking money from the SRN, to spend it on regional roads. Regional roads are important and my view is that we need to find more money to fund them.

‘Secondly, many of the roads in the report are also important to us. We are starting as Highways England to look at local roads as collectors for the SRN and distributors and also looking at diversion routes. The SRN needs more resilience and when there is a problem on the SRN very often the diversion route is barely fit for purpose. We are starting to look at the report.

'I think our official view is that by the time you look at all of the diversion routes and collector feeder roads, there is not a lot of [the major road network] left. We are starting to form a view of what investment in that network might look like. The Department for Transport are considering the report too, they have not formed an opinion on it yet.’

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