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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.”

Motorway money used to restore historic buildings

Gunnersbury Park mansion

Money put aside for reducing the road network’s impact on the historic environment is being used to revitalise historic buildings.

Highways England has awarded £340,000 to Gunnersbury Park – a 75-hectare park near the M4 motorway in West London.

In 2009, eight of the listed buildings in the park were placed on Historic England’s Heritage At Risk Register. There are 22 listed buildings in the park, many of which have fallen into disrepair.

The Highways England cash is being put towards securing three of the threatened buildings. The plan is to transform them into cultural and artistic facilities for the local community.

Last year, Highways England awarded £90,000 towards the cost of specialist surveys of the small mansion and stable buildings. Now, a further £250,000 has been allocated to the cost of repair.

In the future, Gunnersbury Park will boast a multi-million-pound sports hub, offering tennis, football, cricket, gym facilities and angling to local people.

‘Derelict for decades’

Highways England cash restoring old buildings

Highways England principal cultural heritage advisor Jim Hunter said: “I am delighted that Highways England has been able to contribute to this scheme which will help ensure a sustainable future for this beautiful park and its important buildings for generations to come.

“We believe in operating and improving our roads in a way that protects and supports people and the things we value for our quality of life, and helping to enhance the historic environment on or close to our road network is what our Designated Fund for Cultural Heritage is all about.”

Emily Gee, Historic England’s regional director for London and the South East, added: “These special historic buildings within Gunnersbury Park have been derelict for decades and it’s wonderful that they are set to be transformed into cultural and arts facilities for the local community.

“We are delighted that Highways England’s funding has helped to secure the future of this precious landscape together with the commitment of Ealing and Hounslow councils.”

The fund is part of a £675 million fund allocated to Highways England over a five-year period from 2015. Its aim is to mitigate the road network’s impact, focusing on air quality, the environment, cycling, safety, integration and innovation.

Buckingham Palace is the most dangerous landmark to drive past

Buckingham Palace dangerous place to drive past

Buckingham Palace is the UK’s most dangerous landmark to drive past. That’s according to new research conducted using data from a road safety charity.

Using traffic accident statistics gathered between 2013 and 2018, the monarchy HQ is one of three London landmarks to appear in the top ten – the others being the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

If the Queen was in residence at the right time, Her Majesty would have witnessed 203 accidents over the three-year period – that’s an average of 34 accidents a year.

Select Car Leasing, the company behind the study, puts this down to a “glut of tourists, cabbies, private vehicles and cyclists”. It’s also claimed that the roads around Buckingham Palace are “fast-becoming a hotbed of road accidents”.

Somebody ought to warn the Queen.

Angel of the North

The leasing company used the Think! crash map to count the number of accidents within 10 metres of 50 of the UK’s most popular landmarks. 

Only three of the landmarks in the top ten are adjacent to what you’d call a fast road. This suggests a number of the accidents are low-speed collisions, caused by inattentive drivers and ‘rubberneckers’.

Top 10 most dangerous landmarks to drive past

LandmarkAccidents (2013-2018)
1. Buckingham Palace, London203
2. Brighton Pier, Brighton124
3. Scott Monument, Edinburgh89
4. Houses of Parliament, London79
5. Stonehenge, Wiltshire60
6. Angel of the North, Gateshead53
7. Humber Bridge, Yorkshire49
8. St. Paul’s Cathedral, London40
9. Blackpool Tower, Blackpool30
10. Windsor Castle, Berkshire28

As part of the research, Select Car Leasing also looked into the accidents around the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London.

In the years prior to construction (2013 and 2014), there were 17 accidents – an average of 8.5 a year. Once construction has started (2015 to 2018), the number increased to 47 – or 11.8 a year.

That’s a 39 percent rise in traffic accidents, presumably as a result of construction traffic and people stopping to take a look at the new stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium construction

Select Car Leasing said: “The advice is clear on passing landmarks: when you’re driving, keep your focus and watch the car in front.

“They may be tempted to slow down to view the passing monument or attractions. It’s also important that your own eyes aren’t drawn from the road towards the landmarks, or it might be you who causes the accident.”

A new road sign has been approved – but not everyone is happy

Lynton Lynmouth funicular railway

The Department for Transport (DfT) has approved a new road sign, but not everyone is happy.

Devon County Council applied for authorisation to use a brown sign ‘for the purpose of informing road users of the location of cliff railways’. The application was approved before Christmas.

It means that visitors to Devon should see the new cliff railway (funicular) sign when they return to the county this summer. There are two funicular railways in Devon: one in Babbacombe and the other one connecting Lynton with Lynmouth.

There’s no word on whether other local authorities will seek to use the new brown sign. Other funicular railways can be found in the likes of Saltburn, Bournemouth and Southend.

Cliff railway funicular brown sign

The approved design hasn’t been met with universal acclaim. Alex Ingram, a ‘researcher focused on transport’ tweeted: “Concerns have (naturally) been raised that funicular railways have the door at the end of the carriage and not on the side. Thus the sign needs amendment.”

Mr Ingram retweeted a suggested redesign presented by Funimag – an online magazine devoted to funicular railways. The subtle tweaks sees the removal of the door, with the magazine tweeting: “There are plenty of Cliff Lifts like this in Britain except none have their doors on the long sides but on the short sides.”

Fun in the sun

According to Devon County Council, brown tourist signs are designed to safely guide visitors to an attraction along the most appropriate route. They’re also used to indicate attractions or facilities that a tourist would not reasonably expect to find in that location.

‘A national embarrassment’

The funicular sign joins a long list of brown tourist signs in the UK. It’s not the first time that a design has proved to be controversial. In 2017, 20,000 people signed a petition calling for the redesign of the sign used to direct people to a football ground. ‘Maths crusader’ Matt Parker labelled the football sign “a national embarrassment”.

In response, a spokesperson for the DfT said: “The purpose of a traffic sign is not to raise public appreciation and awareness of geometry, which is better dealt with in other ways.”

As this brown sign enthusiast website shows, some of the designs provide a more accurate representation of the attraction or facility. We suspect the funicular railway sign is here to stay.

How Highways England will keep the roads clear on Christmas Day

Highways England keeping roads clear Christmas Day

Last year, Highways England’s traffic officers responded to 611 road incidents on Christmas Day. Proof, if proof were needed, that life goes on after everyone has driven home for Christmas.

Included in the 611 incidents were 343 breakdowns, 24 collisions and 17 instances of animals on the motorway.

There were 310 collisions on England’s motorways during the four days before Christmas Day – half the total number of collisions attended to by Highways England across the 12-day festive period.

Little wonder Highways England operates 24/7, 365 days a year to keep traffic flowing.

Spare a thought for the traffic officers and control room operators who will be keeping the roads clear on Christmas Day. For some, it’s a case of keeping it in the family.

Take husband and wife Greg and Angela, who will be patrolling the A38 and M5 in Devon. “Christmas Day may be a bit unusual for us but we want everyone to have safe Christmas journeys and we can celebrate later!” Angela said.

“And our Christmas message to anyone driving is to check your vehicle before you set off – to help ensure you get to your destination safely.”

Meanwhile, father and son Nick and Phil Shaw will be monitoring the motorways and A-roads of the East Midlands from the control room in Nottingham. Back in the South West control room near Bristol, mother Beverley and son Tom will be keeping eyes on the region’s roads to handle any incidents and maintain the flow of traffic.

‘Prevention is better than cure’

Highways England roads on Christmas Day

South West Operations Manager Beverley said: “It’s the first time Tom and I will have worked the Christmas Day shift. We’ll be up at 4.30am for our shift, and we’ll get in a little earlier to ensure our night duty team can get back and get some sleep before enjoying their Christmas.

“I usually prepare dinner for my family and parents, Tom included, but this year the preparations will be done a little earlier and the celebration will just be a little later –it’ll also mean an early night as we’re both back in for the Boxing Day shift.

“It’s certainly going to be a family affair on Christmas Day as my husband, Andy, has promised to bring in bacon butties for all the control room operators.”

The traffic officers are urging motorists to carry out a few simple checks to their vehicles – and to make sure they have plenty of fuel – to avoid spending Christmas Day on a motorway verge.

Phil Shaw advised: “Prevention is better than cure. By preparing for the journey, checking tyres, oil and so forth, it will make sure people don’t break down in the first place and everyone has a happy Christmas.”

How to avoid a Christmas breakdown

Winter breakdowns RAC

Highways England has issued five tips to avoid a breakdown while you are driving home for Christmas:

  • Lights: Ask someone to help you check the lights, including the brakes and reversing lights
  • Oil: Use a dipstick to check you have enough oil and prevent your engine from seizing up
  • Fuel: Always keep your fuel tank at least a quarter full and fill it up to the top ahead of a long journey
  • Tyres: Check the pressure and tread depth of your tyres to make sure they are safe and roadworthy
  • Screenwash: Keep your screenwash container topped up so you can clear dirt off your windscreen

Severn crossing motorists saving £365,000 a day

Severn Crossing Prince of Wales Bridge

It’s a year since the removal of tolls on the Severn crossings. In that time, drivers have saved around £365,000 a day.

Until the toll was abolished, drivers were paying £5.60 to travel westbound into Wales. The move has saved commuters as much as £1,400 a year.

As a result, journeys into Wales over the Prince of Wales Bridge have increased by 16 percent, with an average 39,000 journeys being made each day.

The Prince of Wales Bridge – also known as the Second Severn Crossing – opened in 1996 to ease the pressure on the original Severn Bridge. 

It cost £332 million to construct, but the overall cost, including debt repayments, interest and tax, spiralled to more than £1.3 billion.

When announcing the end of the tolls, the Welsh secretary Alun Cairns said: “The decision to abolish the Severn tolls next year sends a powerful message to businesses, commuters and tourists alike that the UK government is committed to strengthening the Welsh economy.

Severn crossings

“By ending tolls for the 25 million annual journeys between two nations, we will strengthen the links between communities and help to transform the joint economic prospects of south Wales and the south-west of England.

“I want to ensure that visitors and investors know what Wales has to offer socially, culturally and economically. Most importantly, I want the world to know how accessible we are to business.”

It is thought that people have paid to cross the Severn Estuary since the 12th century, be it on a ferry, on a train, or in a car.

‘Paying dividends‘

Government minister for Wales David TC Davies said: “Over the last year, drivers have reaped the benefits of free road travel into Wales, which is paying dividends for businesses across both sides of the Severn.

“We are better connected economically as a result and through the Western Gateway initiative we will harness the joint strengths of these two regions while respecting our distinct identities and traditions.

“The UK Government is committed to boosting Wales’ transport infrastructure and connectivity which is central to ensuring we raise our game economically and boost our productivity as a result.”

Cars could be banned from parts of the Lake District

Cars could be banned from parts of the Lake District

Cars could be banned from the Lake District as part of plans to cut congestion in the National Park.

The Lake District National Park Authority (LDNPA) and National Trust are looking at car-free zones and traffic management schemes, starting with the hamlet of Seathwaite.

Research carried out by National Parks UK in 2014 found that 93 percent of National Park visitors arrived by car. “It is not much fun being on the shores of somewhere such as Windermere on a bike or on foot when the A592 is nose to tail,“ said Julian Glover in the Landscapes Review, published earlier this year.

The LDNPA notes that 50 percent of its carbon budget is made up of emissions from visitors, much of which is from cars.

But cars are a big source of income for National Park authorities. The LDNPA charges up to £500 for an annual permit, and such fees “may be both a deterrent to car use and an incentive to National Parks to tolerate their continuation,” says Glover.

“We need to address traffic issues in the National Park,” said Thomas Burditt, National Trust general manager for the North Lakes. “Car-free zones are an option we are considering. We are in discussions with residents, the Highways Agency and the parish council.”

According to a report in The Times, the National Trust will present research on car-free zones at a summit in Kendal on Tuesday. Residents of Seathwaite would be able to use their vehicles inside the proposed zone.

‘Loved to death’

Tourists Lake District

Kate Willshaw, officer for the Friends of the Lake District, said: “The Lakes are such an amazing place, but parts of it are being loved to death.

“A lot of it is still wild and tranquil, of course. But there are certain areas that are getting congested, such as Bowness, Keswick and Windermere. We call these places honeypots. They attract people because they are an easy win. You can get to them without driving on single-track roads, and the views are magnificent.”

In a 2018 report entitled National Parks for all: Making car-free travel easier, it was found that visitors arriving by public transport spend more than those arriving by car. They are more likely to spend money on food and drink locally and are more likely to pay for tourist attractions.

Many parts of the National Parks are served by the National Cycle Network, and it’s possible to combine cycling and rail travel for shorter trips. 

Cars parked in the Lake District

It’s not clear whether or not the proposed car-free zone in the Lake District will include electric vehicles, but given this is as much about congestion as it is about air quality, they’re unlikely to be exempt from the ban. 

The 2018 report said “greater use of electric vehicles would reduce the carbon emissions from road transport at the point of use although it would not reduce the number of vehicles in the Parks”. It referenced a Renault Twizy hire scheme in the Lake District.

Many locals would welcome a ban. “Congestion is horrendous and getting much worse. There was a fire in one of the houses near us and the fire engine couldn’t get down, there were so many cars parked,” said a local farmer in The Times.

“Right now, today, there are dozens of cars parked from our entrance right down the road. That’s a normal Friday. I would love this to be a car-free zone.”

60 years of our love-hate relationship with the motorway

60 years of the M1 motorway

“Take it easy, motorist,” was the advice given to drivers by Ernest Marples as he officially opened the M1 motorway on this day in 1959.

“If in doubt, don’t,” he warned, as if to pre-empt the behaviour of motorists as they took to the motorway for the first time. In those days, of course, the speed limit wasn’t governed by legislation, simply by what a car could manage.

Perhaps more importantly, the top speed was limited by the courage and talent of the motorist. Accidents were commonplace, as drivers realised they lacked the skills of Messrs Hawthorn, Hill and Clark.

Less than five years later, Jack Sears hit 185mph in an AC Cobra Coupe GT on the M1, using the motorway to do a test run ahead of the Le Mans 24 Hours. As Sears said in an Autocar article, “many teams were using the motorway for test runs”, including Rootes Group, Jaguar and Aston Martin.

A 70mph speed limit was introduced in July 1967, although the legislation doesn’t appear to have been influenced by the antics of Sears in 1964.

Oh that motorway, ain’t it a thrill to be so free

Congestion on the M1 motorway

To mark the 60th anniversary of Britain’s first city to city motorway, the Guardian has published an article from October 1959, which is best read with the style of a Pathé newsreader in your head.

The 72 miles from London to Birmingham increased the length of Britain’s motorway network to 80 miles. Today, that figure is around 2,300 miles – less than 1 percent of the entire road network.

But the importance of the motorway network cannot be underestimated. Last year, motorways carried 69 billion vehicle miles of traffic – up 10.9 percent on the same period in 2008.

The Ministry of Transport estimated that an average of 14,000 vehicles a day would use the M1 between London and Birmingham in 1960, reducing casualties by 500 and saving 2.7 million hours of driving.

We’ve developed a kind of love-hate relationship with the motorway network, relying on it to reach our destination quickly, efficiently and without fuss. When the network delivers on its promise, we don’t give it a second thought.

But when something goes wrong – accidents, Bank Holiday traffic and congestion – we moan that the network is creaking at the seams and not fit for purpose. Visiting a motorway service area tends to give us something to moan about, too. Still, it makes a change from the weather.

Back in the 1960s, motorways were destinations in themselves. People would visit the three-lane ribbons of adventure that could move cars like a conveyor belt of shopping in a supermarket. Restaurants would cater for the motorway tourists, who’d watch the traffic go by behind huge expanses of glass. Those days are gone.

Riding down the motorway, cats eyes, cold meat pies

M1 motorway Redbourn

Today, the motorway is facing a period of change. Smart motorways are arguably the most controversial thing to hit the network since the 70mph speed limit, while a future of autonomous cars could change the way we use the roads forever.

Reading old newspaper reports makes for fascinating reading. In a separate Guardian article, the editorial slams the ‘slow progress’ of the construction programme and draws a comparison with Victorian railway promoters.

‘No one can say when the M1 will be finished,’ it grumbles, before highlighting the proposed expansion of the network, including, quite interestingly, the M3 stretching all the way to Exeter.

‘In an age of serious contemplation of travel to the moon it seems senseless that no British Government has yet devised means of enabling traffic to move more freely on the ground at home,’ it concludes.

We’ve since been to the moon and back – and have sent a car into space – but moving freely on the motorway seems out of reach to the beleaguered commuters on the M25, M1 and M6. Take it easy out there.

Operation Brock goes live as Brexit deadline extended

Operation Brock Brexit October

Operation Brock, a series of measures to keep Kent traffic moving in the event of post-Brexit disruption, has been activated. The move comes despite the fact that Brexit has been delayed a further three months until the end of January 2020. 

One side of the M20 will be reserved for the flow of Europe-bound lorries and HGVs over 7.5 tonnes. Lorries headed across the channel will be restricted to 30mph between junction eight (Maidstone) and junction nine (Ashford). The London-bound side will be turned into a 50mph contraflow carrying the rest of traffic heading both ways.

This will keep regular in-England commuters ‘safe’ in the case of disruptions to haulage flow across the channel.

Operation Brock: next steps

Beyond this, it’s possible that Manston Airport could be used as a lorry park, while HGV traffic could be directed to the M26, which would be dedicated to cross-border haulage.

How long will it be active?

The last time Operation Brock went live was four days before the March 2019 Brexit deadline. In that instance, an extension was also granted. It’s possible, if not probable that, as in March, Operation Brock will be active for no longer than a month.

Operation Brock: Explained in full

Working closely with the Kent Resilience Forum, the government has implemented the scheme to minimise delays to Europe-bound freight, while protecting local roads from disruption.

Lorries heading for mainland Europe will need to use the coast-bound carriageway of the M20 between junctions eight and nine, with a 30mph speed restriction in place.

All other traffic will run on the London-bound carriageway between these junctions, with two lanes operating at 50mph.

The system goes live ahead of the UK’s exit from the European Union on 31 October. Delays on the M20 are widely predicted.

The M20 will be kept open in both directions for non-freight traffic, with Operation Brock designed to reduce the impact on local residents, businesses and public services in Kent.

‘Robust plans’

Transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris, said: “We want residents in Kent and hauliers travelling from across the EU to be reassured that there are robust plans in place to deal with any disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“We now need everyone to do their bit – whether you are travelling to see family, heading to work or transporting vital goods around the country, please check before you travel to ensure you know what to expect and have the right documents when heading to the border.”

During Operation Brock, hauliers heading to Europe via Dover or the Channel Tunnel will need to follow the dedicated Operation Brock routes and adhere to any diversions, speed instructions or special instructions.

Hauliers are also advised that they will need to show the right paperwork before reaching the border. Non-compliance will result in fines and further delays.

Traffic officers in Kent will have new and enhanced powers to ensure hauliers comply with the Operation Brock system.

Local residents are advised that from 26 to 27 October there will be overnight closures between junctions seven and nine on the M20, as final works are completed ahead of Brexit.

Policy manager for South East England at Freight Transport Association Heidi Skinner said: “Any move which keeps traffic flowing to and from the coast, and through and around Kent, is to be welcomed in order to keep Britain trading.

“Our members have been asking for clarity on the arrangements for some time, so this news will help them to prepare for a potential no deal Brexit and any resulting traffic disruption which may occur.”

Revealed: Britain’s best serviced motorways

Is M74 the best motorway

It’s certainly one of the most dramatic motorways in Britain. According to Roads.org.uk, it’s also one of the most interesting. But is the M74 Britain’s best serviced motorway?

New research suggests that it could be, and there’s a pretty compelling argument to support the claim.

By analysing data on congestion, frequency of motorway services and customer satisfaction at the services, the M74 in Scotland is ranked first, with a score of 91.5 percent.

With six service stations along the 85-mile stretch of M74 and A74(M) between Glasgow and Gretna, the motorway scores top marks for frequency of motorway services. It also scores a near perfect 18.2 (out of 20) for congestion.

M74 motorway in Scotland

The M74 finishes ahead of the A1(M), which scores 20 for congestion, 38.2 (out of 40) for frequency and 30.1 (out of 40) for customer satisfaction.

Meanwhile, the M8 between Edinburgh and Glasgow is ranked bottom. Its caused isn’t helped by the complete absence of proper motorway services, with the Heart of Scotland little more than ”just a large BP garage“.

As anyone who has travelled on the M27 in Hampshire will testify, Rownhams is a place to avoid. The services near Southampton score the lowest mark for congestion and customer satisfaction.

Best (and worst) motorways for services

MotorwayOverall (%)Congestion (out of 20)Frequency (out of 40)Satisfaction (out of 40)
1. M7492184033
2. A1(M)89203831
3. M6 (north of M62)86193630
4. M6 (south of M62)78153330
5. M577163130
6. M476172930
7. M4275113628
8. M1 (south of M6)70132928
9. M236412934
10. M2064142229
11. M62 (east of Pennines)61102031
12. M4061122029
13. M566062430
14. M62 (west of Pennines)5891534
15. M25 (western links)5852032
16. M1 (north of M6)56151329
17. M9539440
18. M24641131
19. M3427727
20. M273701126
21. M25 (eastern links)365526
22. M11322229
23. M8283026

In August, Norton Canes on the M6 Toll was named Britain’s best motorway services by Transport Focus, while Westmorland was named best operator, scoring 97 percent for customer satisfaction across its four sites in Cumbria and Gloucestershire.

Do you agree with the Just Tyres study? Let us know in the comments below.

Click here to view the data in full.