Debris Only Removed When It Causes Crash?

Can it really be the case that debris is actually left in situ’ until a potentially life-threatening collision occurs at the location – which then causes the rubbish to be removed? We are aware that such debris clearance occurs – that it is done in tandem with a repair.  The cost is then incorporated within the repair i.e. the contractor is paid by Highways England under the lump-sum arrangement ( FOI 739465 Data lumpsum payments ) for the task and also bills a Third Party (driver, fleet or insurer) for the works.

Who cares about litter and debris?  Well, we know Mr Silverman does – see Clean Highwaysfor an impressive amount of information on the subject.  Apparently Highways England do also.  During a conversation with contractor staff in February 2016, they appeared somewhat indignant about the issue.  When we raised our concern their response was that we could:

“go and tell the Highway Authority we’re concerned about litter’ because ‘that’s all they give a s**t about at the moment, that’s all they care about”.

CMA also care about litter and debris. We believe litter, or likely, more correctly, debris could well be leading to:

  • Swerve-to-avoid incidents
  • Punctures / blow-outs
  • Surface water / flooding

Litter and debris differ; litter is your discarded crisp packet etc. whereas debris is items such as tyres seen in the central carriageway.

To quote Kier Highways Ltd, a contractor for Highways England, the reason that you see more tyres in the central reservation now than you used to is ‘because of the fact the guys aren’t allowed to cross the carriageway’.  A contractor agreed that you ‘see a lot more of them (tyres) now’.  But the contractor understands why; in order to get that tyre they would need to put a ‘closure’ on. That is to say, the lane would need to be closed and that …. costs money!  So if a tyre is laying flat, doesn’t look like it’s effectively going to fly out anywhere, then it is left.  The contractor accepts that this is not always the right thing but added ‘debris is supposed to be picked up by the HATO’s now as well, and what the HATO’s often do is then just throw it further out’.  A contractor was blunt about the increase in the amount of debris in the central reservation stating:

“The debris is a direct consequence of this zero carriageway crossing* thing, because the guys that work on the networks get very frustrated with it because they feel that they should still be allowed to cross the carriageway.”

*’The execution of zero carriageway crossings began in December 2011.

The contractor understood the safety benefits but added:

“consequence is you do end up with this tyre scenario, and the reality is then no one wants to pay for the traffic management to get rid of the tyre, they have to wait ‘til they’re doing something else and then they get it then.”

Doing something else … like clearing up after a collision!

The reality appears to be that debris is left in the central reservation to be battered by wind and rain, gradually breaking down.  Pieces will necessarily find their way onto the carriageway, some will be relatively small shards of metal (for example from the ‘belts’ of shredded tyres) hardly noticeable but sufficient to puncture a tyre.  Other pieces will be larger and if they do not cause a driver to swerve, could be spat-out by the wheel of a vehicle toward others.  However, should the debris cause a collision that results in damage to the adjacent central reservation barrier, the unlucky victim will assist others because:

  • A contractor will attend to repair the barrier
  • Whist at the location the contractor will litter-pick (remove debris)

Therefore, a further benefit from the contractor’s perspective may be that they can bundle the litter-picking cost in with the repair work.  The incident caused by the litter causes the litter to be removed i.e. it appears the maintenance of our highways is being subsidised by drivers, fleet operators (who have a large deductible / excess) and / or their insurers.

Speaking to a contractor they acknowledged that even HATO (Highways Agency Traffic Officer) staff were, on occasions less than helpful. An account was supplied of a HATO ‘rocking-up’ at a scene where ‘there was a load of debris he was picking it up and throwing it into the verge’.  When asked why he did not just take it, he allegedly responded

“I shouldn’t have to do that”.

We have been advised that the main reason you see debris (and dead animals), why we will see an increase of dead animals, is because again the contractors are not being paid to pick them up, they’re being told not to pick them. But they are being paid to clear debris – it is one of the jobs of an AIW (for Kier) and the contractor is paid a lump sum to do the job.

Is litter / debris responsible for punctures / blow-outs?

It is likely not possible to say with any certainty however, data obtained from Highways England about their HATO patrols in the NW reveals almost 300 incidents involving tyres on their vehicles during 2014. See: Punctures & Blow-Outs.  Furthermore:

04/2018 – A tyre debris study undertaken by Highways England and Bridgestone has revealed the majority of tyres failed because of poor road conditions – to read more click here.

12/03/2019 – Interim Advice Note 150/11 – zero lane crossing misunderstood

‘It is clear from the above that Interim Advice Note 150/11 is concerned only with reducing risk to operatives by eliminating the need to cross live lanes when putting traffic signage in place.  There is no blanket ban.’

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