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Police are patrolling the M25 in HGV supercabs

HGV supercab police truck

In a bid to reduce accidents, police officers will patrol the M25 motorway using custom-built Mercedes-Benz Actros trucks. The so-called HGV ‘supercabs’, which are funded by Highways England, will be deployed for Operation Orbital.

You can expect to see the supercabs on the M25 between now and Friday 27 March. In a similar operation on the M1, the use of three supercabs helped to cut the number of collisions by a third.

The supercabs are fitted with flashing lights for use in an emergency and have derestricted speed limiters to allow them to travel at higher speeds. The high vantage point allows officers to film evidence of unsafe driving by pulling alongside vehicles. Offending drivers are pulled over by police cars following a short distance behind.

Officers will be checking for mobile phone and seatbelt offences, along with the roadworthiness of vans and lorries, drivers’ hours and insecure loads. In December 2018, there were 400 collisions on the M25, leading to congestion and delays for motorway users.

Operation Orbital involves police forces from Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent, Surrey, Thames Valley and the Metropolitan Police. The officers will also be offering free tyre checks and safety tips to drivers at motorway services.

‘Potentially devastating consequences’

Accident on M25 motorway

Colin Evans, regional road safety officer, for Highways England in the South East, said: “The busiest sections of the M25 are used for nearly 200,000 journeys every day, ranging from commuters getting to work to haulage firms delivering goods along the route or overseas.

“We know that the vast majority of drivers obey the law but a few are risking potentially devastating consequences by driving dangerously.

“Over these two weeks of action, enforcement agencies will be carrying out a coordinated series of checks all around the M25 to help improve safety for everyone.”

The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing, chief constable Anthony Bangham, added: “I welcome initiatives to reduce the number of people killed or injured on our roads. We have seen similar successful collaborations between the police and Highways England in the past and I am pleased to see us working together again.

“We want all of those using our roads to do so safely and we will prosecute drivers who put themselves and others at risk by breaking the law.”

Campaign to sort road signs

Sort My Sign campaign wants to improve road signs

Campaign to sort road signs

A transport watchdog has launched a new campaign calling on motorists to report broken, confusing and hidden road signs to Highways England.

The appropriately named ‘Sort My Sign’ campaign aims to increase the usefulness and effectiveness of the signs on the 4,300 miles of motorways and major A-roads managed by Highways England. Inadequate signage can be reported via the Transport Focus website.

Using the information, Transport Focus will press Highways England to sort individual problems, and work to force policy change so these issues don’t happen in the future. 

Recently reported problems include overgrown vegetation obscuring a large green sign on the A1 at Wyboston, a similar problem on the A1 at Sandy, and more overgrown vegetation on the A34 at the junction with the M60.

A total of 140 problems have been reported since the campaign launched a month ago. One road user was quoted as saying: “I have had to make last minute lane changes that were less safe than I would like, but have also chosen to miss exits altogether and return via the next exit. In my view motorway exit signs are not best placed for visibility.”

Transport Focus wants Highways England to:

  • sort broken or inaccurate signs
  • provide better information during delays and unexpected disruption
  • review the existing standards for signs on motorway and major ‘A’ roads.

‘If it’s not clear, it’s not safe’

Road closed flooding

Anthony Smith, chief executive of Transport Focus, said: “We want to hear from road users about signs and information that aren’t up to scratch. We’ll use what you say to press Highways England to make journeys easier and safer.

“There is nothing more frustrating than missing your turnoff because the sign was hidden behind a tree or missing crucial information.

“While we have some of the safest roads there are still too many signs which are broken, confusing or out of date. If it’s not clear, it’s not safe.”

Number of potholes forecast to rise by 16 percent

Worst pothole in the UK

The number of potholes will rise by nearly a fifth (16 percent) if the investment in roads remains at current levels. That’s according to new research conducted by an insurance company and an economic consultancy.

It says that only one in four potholes in the UK will be fixed if the government commits to pledges made at last year’s general election. Since the election, the country has been hit by Storms Ciara and Dennis, resulting in more potholes and the requirement for even more investment.

This country doesn’t have a good track record when it comes to the quality of our roads. In 2016, a survey by Waze found that the UK was the third worst European country to drive in for driver satisfaction, with only Romania and Russia appearing lower on the list. Many respondents cited poor road surfaces as particular problem in the UK

Meanwhile, the UK ranks 37th out of 141 countries on the World Economic Forum’s road quality index, with the nation sandwiched between Slovenia and Lithuania, and only marginally better than Rwanda.

The Netherlands performed well on both lists, finishing top in the Waze survey and ranked second on the World Economic Forum index. This should come as no surprise, given the fact that 62 percent of the Dutch government’s investment into infrastructure is spent on the road network. 

With a budget of €3.6bn (£3.1bn) for roads, the Dutch spend €29,000 (£25,000) per kilometre of road. Meanwhile, the UK government spends €25,000 (£22,000) per kilometre.

‘The issue of pothole continuity’

Pothole road

Now, a British company is calling for the use of Asphalt Rubber (AR) on road production in the UK. Roadmender Asphalt points to the use of the recycled rubber for road surfaces in Sweden, where it says road life expectancies have ‘shot through the roof’. It claims that mastic asphalt – the equivalent material used on Britain’s motorways – should be rolled out for use on other roads.

Harry Pearl, CEO of Roadmender Asphalt, said: “Whilst the new research from Zurich UK and Cebr paints a bleak picture for the state of Britain’s roads, the issue of pothole continuity does not take into account the new innovations that are on the horizon. Of course greater investment in our road networks will always help to alleviate the issue, but as seen in countries such as Sweden and their Scandinavian neighbours, innovative technologies are there to be utilised.

“Mastic asphalt has proven to be a success for the British motorways, and in the next few years we will certainly see an increase of mastic being transferred onto Britain’s A and B roads. With the assistance of our Roadmender vehicles, we are able to cut the costs of pothole repair through efficiency and time.”

Concrete barriers to be used on M20

Concrete barrier will keep M20 motorway traffic moving

Concrete barriers to be used on M20

Highways England will use a moveable concrete barrier to manage the flow of traffic in Kent. It will be deployed on the M20 motorway at times of cross-channel disruption.

It’s claimed the new system can be in place ‘within hours’, rather than the month of overnight closures required for Operation Brock. During normal traffic conditions, the new scheme allows the motorway to retain three lanes, a hard shoulder and 70mph speed limits in both directions.

The now redundant Operation Brock was designed to keep the M20 open in the event of no-deal Brexit disruption, but it’s no longer active after the government’s decision to stand down contingency planning for this scenario.

SEE ALSO: Brexit barrier on M20 motorway to be dismantled

Work on the moveable concrete barrier between junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 will commence in the summer and is expected to cost £60 million. A temporary solution will be complete in December 2020, with a permanent system finished in 2022. 

Moveable barriers are already in use in cities such as Auckland, Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver. 

The new solution means work on an ‘off road’ replacement for Operation Stack has been replaced, as have plans for a lorry holding area in Kent.

‘Boost Kent’s resilience’

Grant Shapps

Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “After listening to frustrated residents and businesses affected by Operations Brock and Stack, we’ve invested in a new solution to boost Kent’s resilience and keep its vital road network moving, even at times of disruption.

“This state-of-the-art technology can be deployed quickly, simply and safely, ensuring motorists across the county can get to where they need to be with minimum fuss, whatever the circumstances.”

The Freight Transport Association’s policy manger for the south east, Heidi Skinner, added: “No operator wants to be stuck in slow moving or stationary traffic, and today’s announcement will come as a welcome respite for those concerned about the impact of potential delays on the UK’s supply chain from the continent, as well as on businesses and residents in Kent.

“However, there is more to be done to ensure that the new system will work in the best way possible and manage the congestion any form of cross-channel disruption can cause, and we look forward to working with Highways England and Department for Transport on this.”

Litter in a lay-by

Highways England doing ‘rubbish’ work in the South West

Litter in a lay-by

Highways England is to install bins and ‘Keep it tidy’ signs in 14 lay-bys in the South West of England. This follows the work of local councils in identifying the worst affected lay-bys for roadside rubbish.

Signage has been installed along the A30 and A38 in Devon and Cornwall, but Highways England is also teaming up with councils in Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Tewkesbury, Gloucester and the Forest of Dean.

Work on the £80,000 scheme will start this weekend, initially in three lay-bys near Bath. Lay-bys to receive attention over the coming weeks are on the A303, A36, A40, A46 and A4.

Highways England says the work will improve the lives of local communities and motorists, but will also save time and money spent clearing rubbish from the roadsides.

Around 200,000 bags of rubbish are collected from England’s motorways every year. Although removing litter from the side of A-roads is the responsibility of local authorities, Highways England assists with any necessary road closures.

‘Littering is a social problem’

A303

Chris Regan, South West head of service delivery for Highways England, said: “Littering is a social problem across the country and our priority, working closely with our partners, is to keep our roads safe and well maintained for drivers and neighbouring communities.

“Roadside litter is not just unsightly but it’s a threat to wildlife and the environment and it can also be a safety hazard for drivers, can block drains and picking it up puts roadworkers at risk.

“Litter collections are the responsibility of local authorities, but we’re delighted to be working in partnership with our councils and hopefully the layby work will not only help to get the message across but also reduce the work and risk for the councils’ workers.”

Councillor Bridget Wayman, Wiltshire Council Cabinet Member for Highways, added: “We welcome this initiative on our major roads in Wiltshire, and we are pleased to be working in partnership with Highways England to reduce litter throughout the county.

“Wiltshire is a beautiful county and we are committed to keeping it that way, so please, use these bins and help to keep our lay-bys litter free.”

Roundabouts good for your health

Are roundabouts good for your health?

Roundabouts good for your health

Roundabouts could be good for your health. That’s according to a recent study of air pollution levels.

Scientists from the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research and the Lancaster University Environment Centre looked at the UK’s 146 most populous urban areas.

They wanted to discover if there’s a correlation between a town’s layout and the levels of pollution.

The 146 largest conurbations were ranked by their NOx emission levels, with the data overlaid with the size of the population. Taking this into account, Milton Keynes is the city ‘most improved by urban form’.

‘Roundabouts do two things’

Speaking to the BBC, lead author of the study, Professor Rob Mackenzie, said: “The Milton Keynes roundabouts do two things – they reduce stop-start driving which reduces production of pollution, and they make space to help the pollution dilute and mix away.

“Milton Keynes has taken up much more space for its people and its transport which means the pollution it produces is diluted in a greater space.”

Just 23 miles down the road in Luton, the story is less positive. The town’s compact and built-up nature means fumes are unable to disperse as easily.

“Luton is much more compact so it doesn’t gain from that dilution benefit. The biggest effect green spaces have on air pollution in urban areas is to provide space for that pollution to disperse.”

Roundabout in Milton Keynes

Crucially, the two towns produce roughly the same amount of pollution for their size. But the air in Luton is much dirtier, because the pollution is trapped by tight roads and building. Conversely, the roundabouts, boulevards and open roads of Milton Keynes allow the poisonous gases to escape.

Professor Mackenzie said towns like Luton cannot “rely on the dilution effect of it being spread out to avoid the problem”.

“I’d be advocating that Luton recognise that their particular situation puts them at a relative disadvantage, so they ought to work even harder at driving down emissions from traffic.”

The following tables show the best and worst urban areas when it comes to dispersing pollution. The rankings are based on the percentage change relative to the 146 largest areas in the country.

Top 10 most improved by urban form

Urban area Percentage change
1. Milton Keynes 22%
2. Stoke-on-Trent 21%
3. Weybridge 20%
4. Aldershot 19%
5. Macclesfield 18%
6. Livingston 18%
7. Swansea 16%
8. Manchester 16%
9. High Wycombe 14%
10. Birmingham 14%

Top 10 least improved by urban form

Urban area Percentage change
1. Luton -24%
2. Crawley -15%
3. Leamington Spa -13%
4. Cardiff -12%
5. Coventry -12%
6. Stevenage -12%
7. Tamworth -12%
8. Bradford -12%
9. Oxford -12%
10. Worcester -12%
New road Carland Cross in Cornwall

‘Congestion-busting’ road in Cornwall gets green light

New road Carland Cross in Cornwall

The government has given the green light for work to start on a ‘congestion-busting and economy-boosting’ road scheme in Cornwall. It promises to bring relief to local residents, not to mention the millions of tourists who visit the county every year.

The single lane section between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross is a notorious bottleneck, creating long delays at peak periods and during the summer. Now, Grant Shapps, the secretary of state for transport, has granted a Development Consent Order for work to start on a £290 million improvement scheme.

This follows the opening of a dual carriageway across Bodmin Moor at Temple in 2017, which removed another section of single carriageway between Scotland the far west of Cornwall. Bad weather meant the works finished a year behind schedule. The image below shows the congestion before the new road opened.

Work on the new 8.7-mile dual carriageway between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross is expected to start later this year, with the route likely to be open to traffic in 2023. However, consent for the works is subject to a six-week period in which the decision may be challenged in the High Court.

Once completed, the new road scheme will include:

  • A 70mph dual carriageway
  • A two-level junction at Chiverton Cross
  • A partial junction at Chybuca
  • New bridges at Tolgroggan Farm, Pennycomequick Lane and over the Allet to Tresawsen road
  • A two-level junction at Carland Cross
  • Keeping the A30 as a local route

‘Vital upgrade of the A30’

Department for Transport policing review

Roads minister Baroness Vere said: “This government is committed to delivering an infrastructure revolution and levelling up access across the country.

“This vital upgrade of the A30 will improve safety, cut congestion, boost access for drivers on their daily commute and create better journeys for the surrounding communities.”

Highways England senior project manager Josh Hodder added: “We’re delighted to receive the secretary of state’s decision, which represents a major step in developing a scheme to help unlock congestion, promote economic growth and bring out better connectivity for local communities along the A30.

“Improving the A30 between Chiverton and Carland Cross is incredibly important for Cornwall’s future.

“It’s the only remaining stretch of single carriageway on the A30 between Camborne and the M5 at Exeter; journeys on this part of the road are regularly delayed, congestion often brings traffic to a standstill, and as a result the Cornish economy is being held back.”

The existing A30 will remain open while work on the new road takes place, although some delays are inevitable.

Watch as a motorway bridge is removed from the M5

No plans for smart M5 motorway

It’s amazing what you can achieve in one Saturday night. While many of us were sleeping, Highways England was preparing to remove a motorway bridge from the M5 in Gloucestershire.

The 40-year-old footbridge spanning the southbound and northbound areas of the Michaelwood Services had reached the end of its life. It had been closed to pedestrians since 2018.

A team of 70 people were involved in the cutting, dismantling and lifting of the motorway bridge, aided by a 750-tonne crane. A further two 130-foot cranes were used to manoeuvre the 69-tonne structure for cutting and removal.

In a real-life Saturday takeaway, the metal and concrete were transported away for recycling. Come the morning, the road was reopened for traffic, with many drivers oblivious to the removal job that had taken place overnight.

‘Massive operation‘

Highways England took the opportunity to carry out other essential maintenance work during the overnight closure. Project manager Adrian Simon said: “It was a massive operation for our principal contractor Carnell, we understood the closure would have an effect on journey times and we appreciate people’s co-operation and patience during the work.

“We carried out additional work between junctions 13 and 14 to minimise disruption, the removal operation was carried out safely and discussions are ongoing regarding building a replacement footbridge.

“As is the case with a lot of our replacement and renewal schemes, another positive will see the materials recycled and put to good use elsewhere.

Not everything went according to plan. The team experienced computer issues with one of the 130-tonne cranes, unseen issues detaching the main span from the piers and additional cutting of the bridge deck.

Adrian Simon added: “Due to the complex nature of the operation, we did reopen the M5 a little later than scheduled, and again, we’d like to thank drivers using the diversion routes for their patience.“

Now watch the time-lapse footage of the bridge removal. They make it look so easy…

£1m Norwich ‘bat bridges’ do not work

Seven bat bridges built over a main road in Norwich do not work as they should. That’s according to a BBC investigation.

When the £205m Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) was built, 12 bat crossings were put in place, including seven bridges, two green bridges, two dark corridors and an underpass.

All bats in the UK are protected under Schedule Five of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Since 2007, the effective protection for bats now comes from Schedule Two of the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c) Regulations 1994. This makes all bats a European Protected Species.

The seven bridges, costing £1m, were built over what is now known as the Broadland Northway to help bats fly safely over the road.

The bridges feature wire mesh strung over the road between two poles. They’re intended to replicate hedgerows and trees, giving the bats a reference point for sonar. In theory, the bats should avoid the road, protecting them from danger.

Now, a report on the first year of the 12-mile road, along with data released to the BBC, suggests the bat bridges aren’t working. Indeed, just 49 percent of bats were flying close enough to the bridges to be considered as using them.

More worrying is the news that a survey conducted months after the opening of the NDR could only locate one of the three previously healthy barbastelle bat populations on the route.

‘Not meeting their purpose’

controversial bat bridges not working

Dr Anna Berthinussen, a bat ecologist commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to examine such measures on new roads, told the BBC it was likely the council’s attempts to protect the bats had failed.

“The evidence in the report suggests that actually no, these structures are not effective, they’re not meeting their purpose. I think it’s quite striking how few bats there are at any of the crossing points,” she said.

“At one of the bat gantries [bridges] there weren’t any bats recorded at all. At the others, just a handful of bats per survey, which is really worrying.

“The lack of bats at the crossing points is almost certainly down to the impact of the road. Bats may be avoiding crossing the road or disturbance caused by the road may have driven bats away from the area.”

Martin Wilby, council member for road and infrastructure, defended the bat bridges, saying: “I’ve seen the report. And I’ve seen that numbers of the bats have been using the bridges across the NDR.

”We should monitor them and if they don’t work over a period of time, fine, we’ll accept that – but at this present time it’s very early days.”

The full investigation into the Norwich bat bridges will be shown on BBC Inside Out East tonight at 7.30pm. It will also be available afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.

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.”