Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Brexit: Hell on wheels

Yesterday the A14 Huntingdon bypass opened a year ahead of schedule. Or rather, I suspect, they planned a year longer than was necessary for PR purposes. It promised to cut journey times by up to twenty minutes. This it has not done. Last night my home commute took forty minutes longer and this morning it took a full hour and a half longer.

Now I could be quite cross about this but there were bound to be teething problems and things will soon settle down into a new routine. I'm told it has made things better for through traffic but for us locals it's something of a nightmare.

Much of the problem stems from people having not read the new map, not knowing where the new on and off ramps are, which is partly to do with poor signage, but also to do with a lack of personal planning by commuters. It will take a few days for commuters to get to grips with the new system and by the next year we shall know whether the new road delivers what it promised. There is still much to do further down toward Cambridge so for the time being, it just shunts the traffic jam about eight miles down the road. Doing the trip in winter darkness both ways certainly doesn't help.

The point, though, is that it only took this relatively minor change for the whole road network in the region to grind to a halt. As commuters seek alternative routes to avoid traffic, even the feeder roads were choked this morning, and the usual jam through Madingley took twice as long. I haven't seen a jam on the M11 like that since Duxford famously cocked up its planning for the first ever mass formation Spitfire flypast.

This to me underscores the point about a no deal Brexit. Systems work through gradually established routines and though they can adapt to change, and tolerate minor disturbances, they simply cannot cope with major change overnight. The cost of this particular change on the A14 has cost countless man hours and cost businesses hours of productivity (and major overheads and delays for hauliers), with some deciding the commute wasn't even worth risking.

Though we have had plenty of warning and time to prepare for Brexit, be it with a deal or without, leaving the single market brings about a whole new regime where even the best preparation will be stretched to its limits. As much as it has ramifications for ports it has ripple effects running into just about every regulated sector, to an extent impossible to predict. Though we can expect to adapt to whatever the new regime is, it won't be fast and it won't be without serious implications for commerce. At least with the A14 the eventual planned objective will lead to a less arduous commute, but with Brexit, and the absence of a credible plan, traffic jams are going to be the least of our problems.

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