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Streets of Gold

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Mike Kelly architecture jobs, nothern power house, Manchester...

Highways England recently announced its commitment to £11b of expenditure, resulting in a flood of news articles.

Now that the noise has died down; what will be the impact on those engineers in the highways sector.

To obtain a perspective on this apparent vast amount of expenditure and what it actually represents, let’s step back a few years to 2007 and then jump back to back to the present and consider what it represents as a comparison.  


To help jog all our memories; Gordon Brown was the new Prime Minister and Liverpool, were defeated in the Champions league final in a re-run of the exciting 2005 final which astonishingly they won winning 3–2; after a penalty shootout. 

Just before the 2008 recession hit new projects were in abundance. Transport for Scotland, the Highways Agency and local authorities; were all busy on our road network.

For a general idea of spend, consider the cost per lane mile for either construction or maintenance schemes.

In 2007; The M1 widening project was costing £21m per mile. Yes, that is just for the widening and not 3 lanes!

You could view this as a Smart Motorway project in today’s terms.

2008 – 2009 Legacy projects

We are now in the middle of the credit Crunch and in April 2008, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which oversees the global economy, warns that potential losses from the credit crunch could reach $1 trillion and may be even higher!

As you might expect there was very little in the way of new projects around. However the legacy projects still needed completing.

The cost of constructing a 3 lane motorway has increased up to £24m per mile.
For a dual carriageway it is £13m per mile.
For a 2 lane road £8m per mile.

2010 – 2013 The network needs maintaining!

By now and the UK has been forced to implement harsh austerity measures in an attempt to reduce its deficit.

New projects were scarce but the Highways Agency and local authorities were still maintaining the road network and that had a tasty price tag too.

Between them, Local Authorities and the Highways Agency have over 22,000 lane miles of roads and motorways to maintain. In 2011 they spent £709m on maintenance, such as resurfacing, barrier repairs, potholes, and of course winter maintenance cost of gritting.

That is £32,000 per lane mile!

2014 Smart thinking!

July is a typical English summer, homes are flooded and people left stranded in their cars as lightning, hail, heavy rain and flash flooding hit east and south-east England at the end of the month.

2014 is also when Smart Motorways are the new big thing. A number of projects have gone through design to site construction and there is now an appetite for even more.

2015 Spend Spend Spend

The government has released budgets exceeding 11 billion over 5 years to Highways England relating to 480 lane miles of projects, to commence during 2015 to 2020. These will be on projects mainly related to the new Smart Motorway Schemes to widen the motorway network at congestion points.

Unlike football transfer fees; the cost to construct these projects has actually fallen to £23m per lane mile.  

 £11,000,000,000 / 480 = £23m per lane mile

Highway England has announced that it has released these projects to encourage employers to plan their recruitment for the required skills for both the design and construction personnel!

The industry widely accepts that there are not enough engineers; to deliver to these schemes.

However research on highways expenditure for the years 2007/08 shows it was £6.7b!

So with the actual expenditure significantly less than before the recession why the need to encourage hiring?

Well sadly as a result of the recession we now have a desperate shortage of engineers in this vital sector.      

So what will it mean for the careers and earning potential for engineers?

Whilst there will not be actual Streets of Gold; there are going to be lots of opportunities for engineers to enjoy both lucrative and interesting projects.

If you would like to be a part of this busy sector of civil engineering, please send your CV to me at for both staff and contract opportunities in design or site disciplines.