Safety at Risk in New Cost-Cutting Motorway Schemes
The Government's desire to extract the maximum capacity from the motorway network at the lowest possible cost could jeopardise road safety, believes the ABD.
Until now, 'managed motorway' schemes have only allowed the hard shoulder to be used as a running lane at times of peak traffic flow, when variable speed limits apply and there are frequent refuge areas available for emergency use. From now on, however, starting with a managed motorway scheme on part of the M1 in South Yorkshire, the hard shoulder will be in use at all times, often with the speed limit at 70mph, and the distance between refuge areas will be four times greater (2,000m instead of 500m). The outside (fourth) lane will also be reduced in width to 3.2m from the normal 3.65m .
The ABD was concerned about the safety aspects of managed motorways when they were first proposed in 2004, and also that they would be used as a cheap alternative to widening or new-build schemes. The ABD responded to the consultation carried out at that time and we were invited to discuss our concerns with the consultants working on the pilot M42 scheme. 1
Malcolm Heymer, the ABD's traffic management adviser, and one of those who met the Highways Agency's consultants, comments:
“The consultants explained at length how the safety issues were going to be addressed. I was impressed with the sincerity of their determination to produce a safe and effective scheme. Subsequent experience shows that, whilst there are other issues with the usefulness and application of variable limits, the current schemes work reasonably well with regard to safety. These new proposals, however, show that we were right to be concerned that managed motorways were the thin end of a make-do-and-mend wedge, and now it seems even safety is to be compromised to reduce costs further.”
The ABD is not alone in its fears about the safety of future managed motorway schemes. Local authorities and emergency services in South Yorkshire have voiced their concerns about the M1 scheme, with the emergency services commissioning an independent review of the plans. 2
ABD chairman Brian Gregory concludes,
“These cost-cutting proposals are a step too far and we call on the House of Commons Transport Committee to hold an inquiry into their safety as a matter of urgency. With drivers paying five times as much in taxes as is spent on the road network, we deserve better.”