Clarkson on: roadworks
This article was first published in July 1997.
I've just driven from Milan to Avignon via Pisa, Bologna and Monte Carlo and in not one of the 1,500 miles did I see a single motorway lane closure. There were no roadworks at all. There were no cones. It was a high speed highway to heaven.
Even though the Lancia Dedra Estate I'd rented was terminally backward, and any assault on the car's upper rev limit caused my ears to explode, I could do 90 for hour after hour after hour. On one downhill stretch I hit 100 but the doors fell off.
Then I came back to England, where on the simple 85-mile journey from Gatwick to Oxford, there were three major sets of roadworks.
Now the M25 I can understand. They screwed up and built it too narrow. Fine. God made a mess, remember, when he did the flamingo, which is an idiotic bird with legs that are far too long. Then he did the totally purposeless nettle. We all make mistakes.
So ever since the M25 opened they've been widening it. Then there's the roadworks on the M40 which, again, are understandable. The road has worn out and needs replacing.
Mind you, I don't understand how they intend to do this by coning off the offending few miles and employing guys in hard hats to stare at it. I've driven down the single lane they've left a lot recently and I have yet to see a single person doing anything. Still, they're experienced roadworks johnnies so we can rest assured they know what they're doing.
But I do not understand what is going on where the M40 meets the M25. The signs say it's being widened, which is nonsense. It was already wide enough, by miles.
The M6 needs widening. The M5 needs widening. The M1 needs widening. But they've decided that none of these real problems will be addressed until they've had some practice on the under-used M40.
And boy are they going to take their time - two years, to be precise. Now look, a road is some stones covered with sticky stuff that sets. In two years, I could build a road from here to Sofia.
"Britain stands no chance of becoming a driving force in Europe unless we build roads properly and get urgent repairs done quickly"
In two years, they could close the M40, plant crops, allow them to grow, harvest them and then build a new motorway. And there'd still be time to stand around in hard hats, pointing at things.
When an earthquake devastated Los Angeles, I don't recall signs saying the freeways would be open again in two years. No, I saw teams of worker bees shovelling ruined bridges away and building new ones so the entire network was up and running again in less than 12 months. In Japan once I saw them replace an entire Tokyo highway before sun-up.
Now at this point, some people will be reaching for the notepaper, eager to point out that we don't pay tolls to use our motorways and that we can't expect better service as a result. Well, that's crap. Britain's motorists pay £25 billion a year through vehicle excise duty and petrol tax and car tax and VAT on tax etc etc etc. That's a lot of money. In fact, we're paying so much, the government simply doesn't know what to do with it all. This can surely be the only reason why they're spending two years widening an already wide road. Either that or it's the bloody freemasons again.
In the past, I've blamed freemasonry for the destruction of our car industry, arguing that a component buyer from BL wouldn't fire a company for sending dodgy parts if its managing director had a weird handshake.
Week in and week out, lorry loads of crappy speedos or whatever were delivered and no-one did a damn thing about it because of some barbaric ceremony every Tuesday night where a bunch of grown men run around throwing salt at one another.
Well now they're at it in the construction industry, taking ten times too long to do a job that didn't need doing anyway in exchange for a new apron and an oddball boater.
Britain stands no chance of becoming a driving force in Europe unless we build roads properly and get urgent repairs done quickly.
I suspect things will be better under ‘call me Tony'; he is a village idiot and his backbenchers are teachers with beards, but they haven't yet been exposed to white collar Britain.
So when Mr Motorway Builder walks in and shakes hands while doing a handstand, they will ask him to leave or they will call security.