Monday, September 26, 2016

News: Motorists not convinced by smart motorways

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Eight out of ten drivers in a recent survey think that all lane running schemes have made motorways more dangerous than four years ago. Over £300m is currently being spent creating a so-called "smart motorway" on the M1 through Rotherham.

Highways England has been working on the £106m scheme on a ten mile stretch of the M1 between junctions 32 (south of Sheffield and Rotherham) and 35a (north of Sheffield and Rotherham). A 20 mile stretch of the M1 between junction 28 (South Normanton) and 31 (Aston) is also benefiting from a "smart motorway" project costing £205m where four lane running began in April.

The projects include converting the hard shoulder to an extra traffic lane in both directions and variable mandatory speed limits and they deliver benefits at a significantly lower cost than conventional motorway widening, and with less impact on the environment during construction.

Previous schemes have only used the hard shoulder at peak times or to deal with congestion. An AA-Populus poll of 20,845 drivers backed up concerns over the lack of lay-bys when the hard-shoulder is used as a running lane.

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It follows from a report by the Transport Committee, a group of MPs charged with scrutinising the Department for Transport, that concluded that "all lane running does not appear to us to be the safe, incremental change the Department wants us to think it is."

It added that the most recent incarnations of All Lane Running, such as the South Yorkshire projects, have less provision for safety measures than original pilot schemes. The Highways England guidance is for the Emergency Refuge Areas (ERA) to be no more than 2.6km apart (approx. 1.5 miles) whereas the AA would like to see at least twice as many lay-bys and they should be twice the length.

Edmund King OBE, president of the AA, said: "Four fifths of our members think that motorways without hard shoulders are more dangerous.

"Whilst we support measures to improve motorway capacity, we do not think that safety should be compromised. We do not accept that the current criteria of an Emergency Refuge Area or exit at least every 2.6km is safe.

"Breaking down in a live running lane with trucks thundering up behind you is every driver’s worst nightmare. The official advice is to dial 999 which just shows how dangerous the situation can be.

"If drivers can see the next lay-by, they are much more likely to make it to the relative safety of that area even if their car has a puncture or is overheating. If they can't see the lay-by, they often panic and stop in a live running lane. If more lay-bys are designed at the planning stage it will be less expensive and safer."

Highways England has set out proposals for a project for four lane running on a stretch of the motorway between Rotherham and Wakefield which would ultimately help create a smart motorway all the way to Leeds. In the last budget, the Government confirmed that funding would be made available to accelerate an M1 smart motorway scheme from junction J35a to 39.

The AA website

Images: Highways England


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