‘Smart motorways’ a trans-Pennine tunnel and a long-term strategy are the top priorities for transport bosses, a Northern Powerhouse conference heard.
Using the hard shoulder as a fourth lane to increase capacity was the most pressing issue, according to a panel that included John Cridland, chair of Transport for the North.
A tunnel connecting east and west was second on the list, Mr Cridland told the UK Northern Powerhouse International Conference and Exhibition in Manchester.
He said: “If we are serious about the Northern Powerhouse we have to be serious about the trans-Pennine tunnel.”
A feasibility study has shown digging a tunnel with road and rail side by side was possible.
Mr Cridland added: “We have economic assets, Manchester and Sheffield, that are completely disconnected at the moment.
“If you are building a single economic entity while respecting the fact there are still the Pennines in the way you need some bold thinking.”
The 40-mile journey between Sheffield and Manchester can take two hours by car, and the fastest train takes 48 minutes.
Transport for the North was established in November, with £10m-a-year to develop better links between Northern Powerhouse cities.
Panellists at the event included Tim Hawkins, corporate affairs director, Manchester Airports Group, Jim O`Sullivan, CEO, Highways England and Tim O’Toole, chief executive, First Group which runs the TransPennine rail service between Sheffield and Manchester.
It is set for an upgrade with new carriages and longer trains in two years.
Manchester Airport Group predicts it could increase passenger numbers by more than 5m if east -west links were dramatically improved.
The panellists’ third priority was long-term strategy, and they urged politicians to look beyond their five-year term in power. Short-term solutions can relieve traffic congestion and improve capacity, but a ‘look into the future’ was required.