M23 Smart Motorway upgrades near Gatwick Airport get underway

Work to turn part of the M23 around Gatwick into a ‘smart motorway’ has reached a ‘significant milestone’, Highways England has said.

The multi-million-pound project aims to reduce congestion and help speed up journeys on an 11-mile section of the motorway.

Work on the upgrade started in June last year, and the first stage will be open for traffic next spring, Highways England said.

David Macleod, Highways England’s project manager for the M23, said: “We are making good progress on this vital upgrade for the M23. Already, we have strengthened and prepared the hard shoulder for use as a new traffic lane and are starting to install the new technology infrastructure along the motorway verges.

“Work continues on the hard shoulder, but we are also switching to the central reserve by installing a new concrete barrier, which is far safer, stronger and longer lasting than the metal one it replaces.

“The M23 is a crucial part of the UK strategic road network connecting Crawley and Gatwick Airport to the M25 motorway, routes into London and the rest of the UK.

“This marks a significant milestone for this strategically and economically important scheme and we’re on schedule to open the improved motorway to traffic by spring next year.”

Construction on the motorway will start switching from the road’s verges and into the central reservation, so the project team can continue to work to add extra lanes and new congestion-busting technology.

The switch will be carried out with a series of closures starting next week, Highways England said.

The southbound M23 will be closed between junction 8 at Mersham and junction 10 for Copthorne overnight for four nights from Monday (October 21), between 9pm until 5am each night.

A fully signed diversion will be in place via junction 6 Godstone of the M25, A22, A264 and join the M23 at junction 10.

Drivers are being advised to allow extra time for their journeys if they are using the road while diversion are in place, and to drive with extra care as the road layout changes.


Will £26m M4 tunnel cause wildlife issues?

Work is close to starting on building a £26m tunnel from the new development at Wichelstowe under the M4.

The project aims to help create 2,000 jobs by freeing up land earmarked for new businesses close to the 4,500-home development.

The underpass will join roads from Wichelstowe to those south of the motorway in the far south west corner of the site.

The Deanery Academy secondary school hosted a display of the plans yesterday.

Officers from Swindon Borough Council’s highways department, and staff from the council’s contractor Alun Griffiths were in the cafe of the school to show plans and answer questions.

One visitor to the exhibition Richard Parry said: “It’s a massive job. They told me that the motorway will stay open nearly every day and there will be some disruption but it won’t be shut for a long time.

“That’s quite impressive if they manage to do it without terrible traffic.”

Other visitors to the site were concerned about wildlife – the new road from the village centre to the underpass will run through green fields and areas of small woodlands.

One said: “What are you doing for the wildlife that will be affected?”

Senior project manager for Alun Griffiths Roger Walker said: “There is an area set aside in the north of the site for wildlife. Any animals we find or disturb will be moved there and there’s a special fence to prevent reptiles from getting back to where we’re working so they stay safe.”

Tim Mann is the programme manager for the highways department. He said: “It’s been quite busy, there’s a lot of interest in where it’s going to go and what’s going to happen.”

The underpass must be built as the planning permission for the whole Wichelstowe development is conditional on it being there.

A new roundabout will be constructed south of the motorway joining the southern access road to Hay Lane heading south and Wharf Road towards Wroughton and an access to junction 16 of the M4.

With work starting soon, it is expected that the whole project will be completed in mid 2021. Staff will be on hand in the cafe next to the reception at the Deanery Academy again on Tuesday between 3pm and 7pm.

In 2020 during construction, the section of the M4 will have a 50mph limit and narrowed lanes but the council has confirmed three lanes will be kept on both sides. Restrictions will be in place for 10 months.

Highways England prepares for Brexit with additions to workforce

Officials have confirmed extra workers are to be taken on to help check the paperwork of lorry drivers heading to Europe after Brexit.

Highways England played down reports it is recruiting additional staff who have no experience after job adverts appeared online suggesting none would be required.

A recruitment agency described the jobs on offer as needing no experience with the main task of those taken on “to check lorry drivers and ensure that they have the appropriate documentation with them”.

According to reports, workers would be based along the M20 near Maidstone, with three eight-hour shifts ensuring the road is patrolled around the clock.

In a statement, Highways England said it would provide training to workers taken on and that there was no intention of them carrying out the same duties as its traffic officers.

“We have taken on the additional task of helping the government with pre-border readiness checks on the M20, if they are needed,” it said.

“The arrangements include limited additional powers for our traffic officers, but these are specific to Operation Brock and we do not have an enforcement role.

“We may need additional temporary staff to assist us with this, but they will not be carrying out the day-to-day duties of our traffic officers and will have appropriate training.”

There was no question those taken on would be carrying out customs checks as these would remain with Border Force officers, a spokesman for Highways England added.

Why UK drivers are choosing not to buy more electric cars

The electric vehicle revolution has hit a roadblock in the United Kingdom.

The government’s ambitious plan to ban all petrol and diesel car sales by 2040 will require a serious shift in buying habits—at present, electric cars account for only about 1% of new vehicle sales in the UK.

A lack of enthusiasm is not the problem. More than half (57%) of British people would consider buying an electric car if it was “available at the right price for them,” according to a recent YouGov survey commissioned by insurance company Aviva. The interest only increases with the younger generation, with 73% of respondents aged 18-24 reporting they would consider an EV.

So why are UK drivers holding off? According to the survey, many believe that the cost and logistics of owning an EV simply aren’t in their favor. Most worry about an EV’s battery range, or the distance it could travel before it needed to be recharged. It’s no surprise that many drivers experience range anxiety, especially since cold weather and length of use can shorten an advertised distance.

Other top concerns include the price tag, finding a place to charge, and the time it would take to charge the vehicle.

In London, four out of five cars are parked on the street, which makes the use of an at-home charger difficult. (London and Richmond-upon-Thames are both experimenting with turning lampposts into charging stations.) One UK Redditor noted that for those who park on the street and don’t have a private driveway at home, owning an EV doesn’t make sense: “That’s an enormous barrier to entry that I can see no way of overcoming without lining our roads with charging points…and I don’t see anyone looking to do that.”

But at least city dwellers can find charging stations nearby. Rural drivers face a far more limited network. Charger locater Zap Map estimates that there are more than 14,300 stations in the United Kingdom. A look at its map of England shows that many stations are concentrated in London and other major cities, while large gaps in coverage appear in both the Midlands and the North of England.

The loss of subsidies has also contributed to the UK’s sluggish EV sales. The government axed grants for hybrid vehicles altogether last year, and reduced the payout for electric vehicles by £1,000.


Smart motorways putting drivers at risk

Smart motorways have put thousands of Brits at risk by removing the hard shoulder, Highways England have admitted.

Safety experts and MPs are now calling for the controversial roads to be scrapped as drivers are being left stranded in dangerous situations on the side of the road.

Recent figures have revealed more than 19,000 motorists have broken down in a live lane over the past two years, a rate of 26 drivers a day.

The data was obtained from a letter from Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan to MPs sitting on the transport committee.

Earlier this year, the committee wrote to the governing body raising its concerns about the safety of smart motorways across the country.

It comes after four people were killed on a stretch of the M1 in just ten months.

All of the deadly crashes happened after motorists failed to reach a safe lay-by area known as an Emergency Refuge Area, which are currently 1.5 miles apart.

Jason Mercer, 44, and Alexandru Murgeanu, 22, were killed when a lorry hit them after they had pulled over to exchange contact details.

Claire, the widow of Mr Mercer, is now launching legal action against Highways England, saying it failed to provide her husband with a safe zone.

Smart motorways use technology as a way of reducing congestion and ease the flow of traffic.

The methods include using the hard shoulder as an active traffic lane.

The letter also revealed Highways England plans on reducing the maximum distance between emergency areas to one mile, with work expected to start next year.

Edmund King, president at the AA, said: “It is horrific that 19,316 drivers have suffered the horror of breaking down in a live lane on a ‘smart’ motorway over a two year period due to the loss of the hard shoulder and an insufficient number of emergency lay-bys.

“This is simply unacceptable and the five deaths on one All Lane Running section of the M1 prove that urgent action is needed.

“We support the improved visibility and signing of emergency refuge areas but are concerned only half have been retrofitted with a target completion date of Spring 2020.

“”We have consistently said that emergency refuge areas need to be closer together.

“We raised this three years ago while the M4 was in the planning stages but were advised it would cost too much to redesign.”

A spokesperson for Highways England said: “Smart motorways include more features than conventional motorways to further enhance safety, and both are significantly safer for drivers than other roads; the evidence shows that where all lane running has been introduced there have been fewer collisions, and congestion has reduced despite an increased number of vehicles using them.


£49m contract awarded by Highways England

Atkins has been appointed by Highways England to deliver detailed design and associated consulting services for the asset improvement schemes planned for the east of England. The work, which is due to commence in January 2020, is worth an initial £49m.

Under Highways England’s new asset delivery contract, Atkins will provide technical support during the scheme’s identification phase to determine where improvements to the road network are required. This information will then be used to inform the detailed design of the region’s improvement works, with Atkins seeing the design through from its initial outline to supervising the construction works on site.

Collaboration will play a central role in the design’s development, with Atkins working closely with the contractors across the east of England delivery community to ensure that the construction, maintenance and operation of the future road network is designed with safety in mind.

Throughout the improvement works design development, Atkins will also look to adopt digital tools where possible, drawing on the likes of automation and lean tools to drive efficiency and reduce costs.

Ian Spellacey, client director at Atkins, said: “With safety, ease of maintenance and the end users in mind, our designs for the east of England’s road network will enable a safer and more reliable movement of people and goods across the region, supporting its economic growth. We have a long history of working alongside Highways England in the region and look forward to showcasing the benefits of digital tools and innovative ways of working to the highways industry”.

Martin Fellows, Highways England regional operations director for the east of England, said: “This new innovative way of working is another sign of our commitment to continually drive improvements in how our busiest roads in the east of England are operated, maintained and improved. I’m delighted to welcome Atkins on board and look forward to establishing a successful, long-term relationship with them.”

TfL sets out plans to help cut congestion

Transport for London (TfL) is proposing to expand its current Lane Rental Scheme and to introduce a new Roadworks Charter for utility companies to help cut congestion.

Introduced in 2012, the Lane Rental scheme allows TfL to charge utility companies a daily fee for digging up the busiest sections of London’s roads at the busiest times. This encourages companies to plan the works they need to carry out outside of the most congested times; a move which has saved £100m of lost travel time in the last seven years according to TfL figures.

The proposed changes to the current scheme – now under consultation – include an expansion of the area covered so that charges would apply across 72% of the TfL Road Network.

TfL has also worked closely with the largest utility companies in London on a new Roadworks Charter, which sets out targets for both TfL and other companies carrying out works on London’s road network to make roadworks safer and less disruptive by 2021. Measures include sharing plans for works with each other in advance to see if they can be done at the same time, targets for improving safety performance and committing to reduce obstacles around works for vulnerable road users. Five companies, Thames Water, UK Power Networks, SGN, Cadent Gas and BT, have signed up to the charter.

Glynn Barton, TfL’s director of network management, said: “We’re working very closely with the industry on schemes such as Lane Rental and our Roadworks Charter to reduce the impact of roadworks and to keep people moving safely around the capital.”

The consultation on the proposed changes to the Lane Rental scheme is available on the TfL website at consultations.tfl.gov.uk/roads/lane-rental/ and is open until 8 November.


Tomorrow’s World vision for a Buckinghamshire estate

A future with driverless cars, smart road technology, and energy generation from passing vehicles sounds like the stuff of science fiction novels.

But Buckinghamshire is positioned to become one of only eight councils in the country to win Government funding to trial ‘smart’ technology in real life that would make vision become reality.

A small County Council team, led by Mark Shaw, Deputy Leader and Transport Cabinet Member, successfully bid for £4.5 million of innovation grant funding from the Department for Transport (DfT) via the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT).

The money will pay for early experimental work on:

  • ‘Smart’ lamp posts made from recycled plastic, which last longer and are cheaper to make, can accommodate light-mounted sensors to collect data, and could even support solar panels and wind turbines.
  • Trial road surfacing that generates energy from moving vehicles.
  • Roadside sensors to collect real-time data about traffic movements, weather conditions and even help guide driverless cars.

The inspiration and impetus is the vision for Aylesbury as a Garden Town where innovation is a cornerstone and new approaches to technology and data use will be woven into new developments.

The cutting edge trialling team will also carry out a feasibility study into driverless cars and how they’d work with this technology, and look into how electric bikes could help reduce the number of commuters’ cars on rush-hour roads.

As part of ADEPT’s SMART Places Live Labs programme, these experimental technologies would be tried out over the coming two years in real streets, rather than in the laboratory.

The County Council team has identified Aylesbury’s 1,900-home Fairford Leys estate as an ideal project test bed, because it’s a self-contained community similar in style to what Aylesbury Garden Town developments might be like.

“It’s exciting that Buckinghamshire is in the vanguard, trialling as-yet untested technology that could become part of normal life in future housing estates,” said Mark. “These Live Lab experiments are ‘proof of concepts’ – testing conceptual technology in real world conditions – and will enable us to demonstrate a whole range of world ‘firsts’.”

Mark said the County Council was keen to trial new transport technologies that would be environmentally friendly, make a real impact on traffic congestion, reduce costs, and possibly generate revenue. Not only this, he said, the results would provide a national and international template for building into future garden town-style developments.

All of this enthuses Bill Chapple OBE, Chairman of Aylesbury Garden Town Board, who sees the Live Labs trials as important to the emerging garden town masterplan.

“With the Aylesbury Garden Town Masterplan, we’re looking forward three decades,” said Bill. “You can’t look at 2040 or 2050 with a mind stuck in 2020. The art of future gazing is to imagine what will be commonplace in 30 years’ time. This is just what the Live Labs team will help us to do.”

He points to the environmental benefits of using recycled components, the potential for sustainable energy generation, and the possible impact on air quality control, which the trial will highlight.

“We owe it to our children and grandchildren to think the apparently unthinkable and imagine the unimaginable,” said Bill.

As the programme develops, the County Council will look for other developers, suppliers, telecommunications providers, and energy funders to support the Live Labs project.

Giles Perkins, Programme Director for the ADEPT Live Labs initiative said: “ADEPT’s Live Labs programme is demonstrating a pro-active approach in tackling the challenges of today within the context of the rapid changes we are seeing in the transport sector. The insights and learning from Buckinghamshire and the other seven Live Labs, as they develop over the next two years, will be invaluable for local authorities and industry right across the UK and beyond.”

The SMART Places programme is a two-year £22.9 million project funded by the DfT and supported by project partners SNC-Lavalin’s Atkins business, EY, Kier, O2, Ringway and WSP.  Local authorities are working on eight projects to introduce digital innovation across SMART mobility, transport, highways maintenance, data, energy and communications. Live Labs is part of ADEPT’s SMART Places programme to support the use of digital technology in place-based services.

The project trials in more detail

‘Smart’ lamp posts, moulded from recycled composite materials, would provide the means to site sensor equipment to measure air quality, detect noise and take surface temperatures, allowing – for example – a control centre to ‘listen’ for road collisions or guide winter gritting. They would also be able to charge electric vehicles. Trials with solar panels and mini turbines attached to taller lampposts would test the feasibility of generating sustainable energy to take the strain off the National Grid.

Special road surfaces, generating energy from the weight and friction of vehicles passing over them, would enable roadside batteries to be charged to power streetlights, or provide electricity to sell to the National Grid.

Roadside sensors would be able to monitor the condition of roads, traffic conditions, vehicle speeds, vehicle types and traffic flow.


£25bn roads investment announced

Chancellor Sajid Javid, has announced a £25.3bn strategic roads investment between 2020-25. The news prompted a cautious industry welcome, although the figure still falls short of the £29bn that was initially quoted for the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS).

The £25.3bn will be invested in the strategic road network between 2020 and 2025. The second Road Investment Strategy (RIS), due to be announced later this year, will set out what this funding will deliver. Users of the A66 across the Pennines, A46 at Newark, M60 Simister Island interchange and A12 in Essex will be among those to benefit from this funding.

Industry figures have cautiously welcomed the chancellor’s announcement, but pointed out that £25.3bn still falls some way short of the £29bn which was initially quoted for the next RIS.

Dave Beddell, AECOM’s European highways managing director and chair of ACE’s roads sector interest group, said: “It is important to recognise that Sajid Javid did not announce Road Investment Strategy 2, what he said was that a full multi-detailed spending review will take place in 2020. A figure of £29bn was quoted for the next RIS which is some way north of the £25.3bn draft submission Highways England made to DfT.

“We welcome the ongoing commitment to road infrastructure and the recognition of the integral role this has in underpinning a sustainable and prosperous economy. We also acknowledge the government proposals to take measures which will provide the UK with a robust platform to build strong new relationships with trade partners within the EU and beyond any potential UK exit from the European Union.  However, industry needs greater transparency from government on detailed proposals around the critical role that transport infrastructure will have in a post-Brexit world.”

The chancellor also announced that an additional first wave of £100m funding will eventually enable 18 new road schemes to move on to the next stage of development. Initially though, the four schemes which have been approved for construction include the Preston western distributor scheme, which will provide a new dual carriageway to reduce congestion in the city, and the 3.5km Stubbington bypass.

The four schemes given funding to proceed to construction are:

  • £31m for the Preston western distributor scheme: a new dual carriageway link between the M55 and the A583 is designed to improve travel between the enterprise zone at Warton and the Springfields nuclear facility at Salwick, as well as reduce congestion in Preston and directly lead to the creation of 3,575 houses and the creation of over 500 jobs. Through the Lancashire County Council funded link road, a further 1,745 houses will also be built;
  • £25.5m for the Stubbington bypass: a new 3.5km single carriageway road will improve the environment in the village with the removal of traffic as well as improve access to development sites in Gosport;
  • £22.5m for the White Hart junction: improving the intersection between the A419 and A420 to the east of Swindon which will not only benefit existing users of the junction but also help unlock development of the New Eastern Villages site which includes over 8,650 dwellings and 40 ha of employment land. By itself, the White Hart junction scheme will unlock the development of 799 dwellings;
  • £22.9m for the Wichelstowe southern access scheme: construction of an access road to the Wichelstowe development site under the M4 motorway which will unlock an additional 2,500 residential units on top of the currently permitted 2000 units.

Beddell added: “The commitment to deliver long-standing regional network improvements is welcomed but we seek firm commitment from government around the keynote infrastructure programmes needed to future proof the strategic road network (SRN) such as Lower Thames Crossing and A303 which provide improved regional connectivity and economic development potential.

“We welcome the continued trend of longer-term investment planning that RIS2 will bring to the SRN and acknowledge the greater certainty this brings to industry.  However, government must recognise the interdependent nature of road travel and provide non-strategic highway authorities with a similar level of autonomy to ensure network needs are considered and developed in a holistic manner.”

Seven other schemes will be awarded funding to develop their business cases. These include the A140 Long Stratton Bypass, which will divert traffic away from busier routes around Norwich, helping reduce traffic through local routes and the A511 growth corridor which will see a series of improvements to improve access to jobs and services in Leicestershire.

A further seven schemes have been given approval to proceed and to apply for funding at a later stage, but Beddell said: “As regional devolution provides greater autonomy for local authorities to make investment decisions which underpin local economic prosperity and growth, we ask that the government clarifies its position on the introduction of a major roads network which DfT consulted industry on in December 2018.

“We acknowledge the government’s proposals to place digital transformation at the heart of its industrial strategy and feel that this has significant potential to foster innovations in all aspects of network design, construction, operation and maintenance. A designated Road Innovation Fund would provide government and industry with a mechanism to collaborate and bring together the skills and expertise which will unlock this potential,” said Beddell.



Survey work for A303 Stonehenge scheme enters next phase

The next phase of investigation work for the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme near Stonehenge will focus around Countess roundabout over the coming weeks.

Geotechnical surveys, to inform the procurement process, have been taking place around the World Heritage Site since July, and the work will move onto and around the A303 Countess roundabout from next week.

A night-time lane closure will be in place on the roundabout on weeknights only, from 8pm to 6am, for three weeks of drainage and sewerage surveys starting on Monday, 7 October.

Following these surveys, a further six weeks of ground investigation work will be taking place at Countess roundabout from the start of next month. This work will involve the drilling of boreholes and shallow trial pits and, with lane closures in place for safety reasons, drivers are advised to allow extra time for their journeys.

Following the launch of an 18-month procurement process in July, the A303 Amesbury to Berwick Down scheme reached another milestone this week with the conclusion of the six-month Development Consent Order Examination.

The examining authority will now review the DCO application and they have three months to make a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Transport, who is expected to make a decision in spring 2020.

Derek Parody, Highways England Project Director, said: “Our ongoing survey work in no way pre-empts the outcome of the DCO Examination. The surveys are taking place to help bidders with their tenders, ensure there is no delay to the programme and put us in a position to be able to start construction on schedule in 2021, providing consent is given.

“And while the work continues around Countess Roundabout, we’d like to thank local communities and road users in advance for their patience.”

Highways England’s proposed upgrade of the A303 between Amesbury and Berwick Down aims to unlock congestion along this vital route, conserve and enhance the Outstanding Universal Value of the World Heritage Site, benefit the local and regional economy and tackle the rat-running issue for local communities.

The £1.7 billion improvement scheme includes:

  • 8 miles of free-flowing, high-quality dual carriageway
  • A tunnel at least 2 miles long underneath the World Heritage Site, closely following the existing A303 route, but a further 50 metres away from the Stonehenge monument, avoiding important archaeological sites, and avoiding intrusion on the view of the setting sun from the stones during the winter solstice
  • A new bypass to the north of the village of Winterbourne Stoke
  • Junctions with the A345 and A360 either side of the World Heritage Site