I have just been round the new roundabout at Green Road, Headington, the most recent of Oxfordshire Highways’ expensive schedule of major road works. Unlike many of the others, this project may have been justified, although it is questionable whether it needed 8 months of disruption and £3.7 million to achieve it.
Its primary purpose seems to be to speed traffic on its way between London and Gloucestershire.There was an episode of Yes Minister in which Jim Hacker concluded that Oxford got a motorway long before Cambridge because of the high proportion of Oxford graduates in the then Cabinet. One pictures influential Londoners at the West Oxfordshire Conservative Club buttonholing David Robertson, the County’s cabinet member for transport, and demanding to know when he was going to do something about the time it took to get to and from their week-end homes.
If you think it unfair of me to look for political motives in a highways decision, recall that in the run-up to the May 2005 local elections, Robertson offered free evening parking in Oxford and pledged to scrap charges at two park-and-ride car parks, to the obvious benefit of drivers from the County (where the Conservatives stood to win votes) and to the detriment of the wholly non-Conservative city. He has now made up the shortfall by charging city residents to park outside their own homes – another story.
Whatever the motive, the construction phase was the usual Oxfordshire Highways cock-up, the inevitable disruption magnified by poor traffic control, leading to long delays and rat-running through near-by villages and exacerbated by complacent comments from Oxfordshire County Council.
Now it is done, and the Range Rovers roar past on Friday night and back on Sunday. It is rather harder, however, if you live in Barton. The exit from Barton is the only one not controlled by traffic lights, and the residents must wait for a gap. This was never easy, but the planners have taken no account of the effect on Barton of the improved traffic flow everywhere else. That will teach them to vote Labour in Barton.
Not that there is any shortage of traffic lights elsewhere – more per yard then I have seen anywhere, and many of them at oblique angles to the line of travel. The result is that one is not entirely sure whether a red light is addressing you or someone else and whether any one of the several lights in the line of sight is talking to you. A county official acknowledged that the new layout will take some getting used to – a curious response from an organisation which wastes a fortune every year on works designed to minimise the need for motorists to exercise any judgement at all.