Sat August 9, 2014
Exasperating Detour Drives One Brit To Build His Own Road
Originally published on Sat August 9, 2014 9:40 am
Most people have been frustrated at least once in their driving lives by construction delays and detours.
But when a road closure in England took drivers on a especially long detour, a local businessman took matters into his own hands.
Mike Watts decided to build his own road, along a much shorter route. Then he opened it up to the public, charging about $3.30 a car.
Watts lives in a village between Bath and Bristol. The road that closed once got him to town in eight minutes. He says the 14-mile detour took him an hour and 20 minutes — sometimes longer.
"It was nose-to-tail all along the 14 miles," he says.
Watts says a farmer started letting a few residents bypass the detour through his fields, but then someone discovered what was happening and tweeted that there was a short cut.
"Before [the farmer] knew what was happening, he was having hundreds of cars going through his field," Watts says.
Over a pint at the pub, Watts told the farmer he could build him a road.
"We shook hands there and then, and they built the road within 10 days."
But not before he ran the idea, and the cost — 150,000 pounds, or about $250,000 — by his wife.
"I said to her, 'Right, now, we haven't got 150,000 pounds, but we have got that in equity in our house, so if you want to make the gamble, you just tell me and I'll build this road just to keep you happy,' " Watts says.
The road is close to getting the 150,000 cars it needs to break even, he says.
"I think we're on target to not just cover our costs; we might make a little bit of profit out of it as well," he says. "I've got to tell you, the stress of building a road, if we do make a profit, I think I'm going to deserve it!"
Watts says he knows the road is a huge success: "We are now on Google maps. It's wonderful."
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Just like Jim Carrey in the film "Bruce Almighty," most of us have become frustrated at gridlock traffic and detours the take us out of the way.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BRUCE ALMIGHTY")
JIM CARREY: (As Bruce) I'm going to need a friggin' miracle to get to work on time. This isn't happening. Not now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When a road closure in England took drivers on a long detour, a local businessman took matters into his own hands. He built his own road; a much shorter route. And he's opened it up to the public, charging the equivalent of about $3.30 a car.
Mike Watts is the man behind the toll road. He joins me from the BBC in Bath. Welcome to the program.
MIKE WATTS: Hi, Lulu.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: We should mention that this road closure was in your village, located between Bath and Bristol in the U.K. How far out of your way was the detour road?
WATTS: Normally, my wife and I would travel from our little cottage up a lane and then it would be about eight minutes and we would be in central Bath to our three little shops. But when the road was closed back in February this year, sometimes it would take us over an hour and 20 minutes. It was nose to tail all the way along the 14 miles.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Most people though, would go to the local pub, drink a beer and then complain to their friend. And I've heard that all good ideas begin in the pub. This one did too.
WATTS: It certainly did. We were in the pub and we started a conversation with a local farmer. He'd been letting a few of the local residents pass through his fields. They were quite happy with this, but somebody discovered that this happening and they tweeted that there was this shortcut. And before he knew what was happening, he was having hundreds of cars just going through his field.
As we bought our second pint of beer, I said to him, I could build a road over there and if you're interested, let's do a deal. We shook hands there and then. And they built the road within 10 days.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Once you saw that the bill was going to be 150,000 pounds - about $250,000 - did you get any grief from your wife?
WATTS: Yeah. When I told her that the bill to build the road's going to be about a 150,000, I said to her, right no, we haven't got a 150,000 pounds. But we have got that in equity in our house. So if you want to make the gamble, you just tell me and I'll build this road just to keep you happy. But we've got to get a 150,000 cars over that road by the end of the year to break even.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And so you think you'll do it?
WATTS: I think we're on target to not just cover our costs - we might make a little profit out of it as well. I've got to tell you, the stress of building a road - if we do make a profit I think I'm going to deserve it. (Laughing).
I think the one thing that's a huge success for us - we are now on Google Maps.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, then you've made it.
WATTS: The toll road is on Google Maps. It's wonderful.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mike Watts joined me from the BBC in Bath, England. Thank you so much.
WATTS: Thank you, Lulu.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)
UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: On the road again. Just can't wait to get on the road again.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.