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Replacement for notorious A428 ‘Black Cat’ roundabout gets public support

Public supports Black Cat roundabout upgrade

The public has voiced its support for proposals to replace the Black Cat roundabout with a new junction linked to a ten-mile stretch of dual carriageway.

A notorious congestion hotspot, including the Black Cat, is the last single-carriageway section of road between Milton Keynes and Cambridge. The ten-mile stretch would link the new junction with a redesigned Caxton Gibbet junction. 

Eight-eight percent of those who responded to the public consultation, including 2,500 programme attendees, 925 detailed responders, and thousands more online, gave their support for the new stretch of dual carriageway. Eighty-six percent approved of a new Black Cat junction, linking the A1 and A428 with free-flowing traffic. The general consensus was that the new carriageway and amendments would reduce journey times and traffic on local village roads.

Summary of responses

A428 uprade

  • 88 percent either support or strongly support the proposals for the alignment of the new dual carriageway.
  • 86 percent either support or strongly support the proposals for the refined design of the Black Cat junction.
  • 79 percent either support or strongly support the proposals for the Cambridge Road junction. 
  • 81 percent either support or strongly support the proposals for the Caxton Gibbet junction.
  • 73 percent either support or strongly support the proposed changes to the existing A428 junction at Eltisley. 
  • 67 percent either support or strongly support the proposed route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

“People across the region have expressed strong support for this project that will help to transform one of the East of England’s busiest sections of road,” said Lee Galloway, Highways England A428 programme lead.

A428 upgrade

“It will not only play a vital role in saving commuters up to 90 minutes on their journeys each week, but also help to unlock economic benefits for the area. We’ll now continue to develop the project design to make sure we maximise the benefits of the scheme while minimising the impacts on communities, drivers and the environment.”

Planning first, construction in 2022, opening in 2025/2026

Highways England will apply for planning consent this summer, following a concrete plan being fully ratified. Construction is planned to begin in 2022, and Highways England “remain[s] committed to opening the new road in 2025/26”.

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

Consultation begins for 70mph tunnel under the Thames

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

Highways England is planning what it calls ‘Britain’s most ambitious roads project in a generation’. Plans for a 70mph tunnel under the river Thames enter the next phase of public consultation next week. 

The multi-billion-pound Lower Thames crossing will connect Essex, Thurrock and Kent. The latest consultation will allow people to have their say on the current state of the project’s design.

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

It will be an eight-week process, running from Wednesday January 29 to Wednesday March 25. There will be 20 events along the route at which people can offer their thoughts. You can also complete an online survey. 

Changes have been made since the last public consultation in 2018. These are with reference to the 29,000 responses Highways England received on the project, as well as new technical information from ground investigations and surveys.

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

The Lower Thames Crossing in its current state would be a 14.3-mile 70mph road – the longest road tunnel in the UK. Road capacity to the East of London across the Thames will be doubled. 

“The Lower Thames Crossing is Highways England’s most ambitious scheme in 30 years,” said Chris Taylor, director of Highways England’s Complex Infrastructure Programme.

“We are designing a new route that will boost the local and regional economy, while providing quicker and more reliable journeys.”

Highways England 70mph Thames tunnel

“We have made some changes to the design of the scheme based on new information, feedback from our consultation in 2018 and ongoing engagement with the local community and organisations.

“This further consultation is an opportunity for people to have their say on the changes before we submit our planning application later this year.”

Highways England line-marking robot

Highways England is using an autonomous ROBOT to paint white lines

Highways England line-marking robot

Highways England has revealed its latest gadget to help speed up roadworks – an autonomous robot that helps cut the time it takes to paint white lines.

Developed by contractor WJ, the robotic pre-marker uses precise positioning technology to mark out where white lines need to be painted.

It recently marked up an eight-mile section of the M6 motorway in Staffordshire in four hours. Two engineers would normally take more than a week to do the same job.

Highways England line-marking robot

Pre-marking roads for white lines is a tiresome job; humans have to calculate where the markings need to be, then walk miles to bend down and spray or chalk them onto the road.

This is both dangerous and arduous, increasing the risk of back injuries.

The robot is proving increasingly popular with Highways England contractors: it has worked on the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement, plus the M4, the M1 and the M60.

Highways England line-marking robot

“We’re always looking at innovative new ways of working,” said Julian Lamb, A14 construction director. “With safety our top priority, the time savings the robot can provide, coupled with removing our operatives from a potentially hazardous situation, make it a great solution”  

Lamb added Highways England has also been working with the manufacturers of a self-driving dumper truck on the A14 project.

Highways England is turning motorway lights back on

Highways England switches lights back on

Highways England is ending its policy of switching off some motorway lighting between midnight and 5am.

The government-owned company has maintained this policy since 2009 on 100 miles of the road network. A recent report, however, indicated that ‘lighting unlit’ sections saw casualty rates increase by 88 percent. These included non-functioning lighting, as well as lighting that was turned off. That’s a rise from 93 to 175 casualties between 2010 and 2017.

Highways England says the switch-off policy ended in 2018. This, because of the installation of more efficient LED lights and, presumably, the negligible savings a switch-off would make. It’s not yet linked the revocation of the switch-off to safety concerns.

Highways England switches lights back on

“Safety is our top priority,” said head of road safety Richard Leonard. 

“On our roads we light what needs to be lit, and we know where those locations are. We have a greater understanding of where night-time collisions occur and the impact road lighting would have. This means we can target lighting where it is needed, rather than putting lights everywhere.

“We are absolutely committed to further reducing deaths and injuries on England’s motorways and major A roads. This will require a concerted effort and investment over the long term.”

Are lit areas more dangerous?

Highways England switches lights back on

Conversely, the company actually points out that its data suggests that ‘you are more likely to be involved in a casualty incident on a lit section of road’. This could, however, be because areas they choose to light are, by comparison, more dangerous.

Why? Because when it reviews lighting, it carries out safety risk assessments to see if it’s still needed. Therefore, if the lights are on, they’re likely needed. It’s a piece of road that lighting is viewed to help make safer, but not necessarily by comparison to roads that don’t warrant it. In short, the lights indicate that a section is viewed as less safe than those without lighting. The lighting is there to help, if only in part, but isn’t the cause.

Highways England using DRONES to watch motorway upgrades

Highways England uses drones

Highways England has deployed its very own eyes in the sky. It’s running drones in order to keep a watch over the progress of work on motorways.

The use of drones, it says, helps reduce disruption for motorists, and allows engineers to plan more accurately. 

Lane closures can be reduced because the drones allow monitoring of a much larger 3D area. It can also be carried out more quickly.

The ‘bird’s eye’ view also allows more meticulous planning of future works. It means getting a better idea of what equipment is needed and what closures will be necessary.

The ongoing M6 upgrade between junctions 2 and 4 near Coventry is benefitting from the technology. The A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon upgrade has also made use of it. (Parts of the latter are a year ahead of schedule, too.)

The M6 project is gargantuan. The smart motorway upgrade will have nine emergency areas, new concrete central reservations, two new noise barriers and a range of new electronic monitoring and signage systems. 

“Safety is our top priority and we constantly pioneer ways of using new technology to keep people safe while we do this work,” said Highways England Smart Motorway sponsor, Peter Smith.

Highways England uses drones

“The drone is a fantastic piece of kit that provides us with detailed insight into scheme progress across a large area of the works in a much quicker and efficient way.

“It surveys up to 10km in a single day and then creates an accurate 3D model of the works in just one hour.

“Ordinarily, inspections by road workers require lane closures for safety reasons and can take up to several days. By using the drone we are able to reduce lane closures because we can scan a much larger area in a quicker period of time.”

A14 Cambridgeshire road upgrade to finish a year early

A14 upgrade Huntingdon Cambridge

Commuters in Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire have reason to be pleased: part of the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon road upgrade will open earlier than planned.

The 12-mile dual-carriageway section of the A14, starting at Swavesey and bypassing Huntingdon, will be in use by December. The original expected opening date was towards the end of 2020.

The stretch is due to open as an A-road, rather than a motorway as planned originally.

A14 upgrade Huntingdon Cambridge

“I’m delighted that we will be able to deliver the benefits of this key section of the project so much earlier than originally planned,” said Highways England project director, David Bray.

“As well as a significant improvement for drivers, this major milestone will start to realise some of the benefits of the upgrade for residents and communities along the A14, too.

“And it will mean that we are able to start work sooner on the improvements we are making to local roads in and around Huntingdon as we start to dismantle the old viaduct over the train station, which will be a real boost for local communities.”

A14 upgrade Huntingdon Cambridge

The full 21-mile A14 improvement is expected to be complete in its entirety by the end of 2020. The project goes from the A1 through both Huntingdon and Cambridge.

Once complete, it’s claimed the upgrade will save commuters up to 20 minutes on journeys.

Why student drivers need to lighten the load to stay safe

student drivers packing for university

Highways England is highlighting the issue of students overloading their cars on their move to university. This, as freshers’ season gets into full swing. 

The government agency surveyed 1,400 students to discover their plans for the journey to uni. The results were revealing. Sixty percent of students would carry on driving even if they knew their car was overloaded. Likewise, 70 percent said that they’ve driven while tired.

The company is urging students to make sure their car is ready for the journey and to ensure they’re in a good state to drive. 

student drivers packing for university

“We want everyone to get to their destination safely and we can all play a part in that,” said Richard Leonard, head of road safety at Highways England.

“We know that this is an incredibly exciting time for students with many leaving home for the first time. 

“Our traffic officers are there to help get things moving if there’s a problem. But we’d urge all students to make sure they load their car correctly before setting off as they could be endangering themselves and other road users.”

Student drivers: a guide to packing your car for uni

student drivers packing for university

Here’s a brief guide on how to load your car for the journey to uni. We’d say the advice applies to everyone, not just students.

Pack according to weight

Pack the heavy stuff down low and the lighter stuff higher up. It helps the weight balance of the car, and means the heavy stuff will be more secure. It’ll also prevent your heavy things from damaging your more delicate posessions.

Secure the load

As best you can, using straps or even seatbelts, secure things you think may fly around, especially if they’ve some weight to them. You don’t want projectiles hurtling round your cabin.

‘Car Tetris’

Think of packing your car as a big game of Tetris, and you’ll pack efficiently and safely. Smaller stuff can go behind the front seats on the floor, secured by the folded rear seats. Flat heavy stuff should go low down. Boxes can be packed in together nice and tight if you do it right. Vacuum pack your soft stuff – it could save you a lot of space.

Pack and drive legally

Most important is to drive legally. Make sure your car isn’t overweight, that your mirrors aren’t obstructed, that it’s packed safely and that you’re properly insured.

student drivers packing for university

“It’s really important that students check their car over before setting off,” said Birmingham City University student Shelby Thomas, in support of Highways England.

“If they’re unsure of something then get a parent or experienced person to check the car. It’s important that it’s fit to drive.  

“I do worry about overloading the car but after speaking with Highways England traffic officer Kelly Rudge, I’m much more aware of how to do it safely and the dangers of not getting it right. Now, if I need to transport lots of items, I’ll check the handbook to make sure the weight is okay, or I’ll get someone experienced to tell me if I have put too much in the car. If I need to do more than one journey, I’d rather do that than cram it all into the car and risk causing a problem.”