2016 Transport Committee

Minister’s determined to press ahead despite safety concerns

Chair’s comments – Louise Ellman, Chair of the Transport Committee, commented:

“The Department for Transport is blatantly ignoring the safety concerns set out in our report. We had barely received the response to our report before the Government endorsed an all lane running scheme on the M4.

The Committee isn’t arguing with the Government about the need for more capacity on our motorways, or their statement that motorways are our safest roads. We support smart motorways such as the M42 scheme.

But we take real issue with the Government’s assertion that all lane running schemes on motorways are no different to other types of roads without hard shoulders. Motorways are a different class of road and drivers have different expectations when using them.

In the same response, Ministers recognise that the public needs to learn about variable speed limits and compliance with Red X signals on these motorways. Even then, we believe that education will fail without enforcement and ministers need to ensure that failure to comply is backed up with effective enforcement.

The Committee remains concerned about the size and spacing of Emergency Refuge Areas. While we are pleased that Highways England has committed to a review, the M4 proposal should not have gone ahead until the review is complete.

We are not the only people who are worried about this incarnation of All lane running schemes. In the course of our inquiry, there were genuine concerns raised by the emergency services, road workers and recovery operators. The Government cannot ignore them.”

Read more here.

Summary

Traffic on the Strategic Road Network is projected to increase by up to 60% by 2040, and traditional motorway widening is a very expensive method of increasing capacity. The Government has therefore been examining other methods, described as Smart Motorways, of which All Lane Running is the latest form. In All Lane Running, the hard shoulder is permanently converted into a running lane. This is a change from previous designs, where the hard shoulder was only used during peak periods or during congestion. We do not support All Lane Running as the attendant safety risks have not been fully addressed.

While the case for increasing motorway capacity is clear, the earlier forms of smart motorway have, by Highways England’s own analysis, a lower risk profile than All Lane Running. The type of scheme used on the M42 has a track record of safety and performance, and it is perverse for the DfT to continually lower the standard of the smart motorway specification, while presenting such changes as a logical next step. The permanent removal of the hard shoulder is a dramatic shift from previous smart motorway schemes. There is no one-size-fits-all solution and each proposal needs to be justified on its own terms.

The M42 Active Traffic Management Pilot cost £9.0 million per mile to construct. While it is clear that this is more expensive than the cost of using an All Lane Running configuration, it remains less expensive than traditional motorway widening. Unlike All Lane Running, it maintains emergency use of the hard shoulder using infrastructure that creates a controlled environment. If traditional motorway widening has been rejected as too expensive, then it is the model of the M42 pilot that should be considered the basis of future schemes, rather than a permanent conversion of the hard shoulder into a running lane, an ever-decreasing frequency of emergency refuge areas, and newly introduced hazards impeding emergency and recovery service access to incidents.

The Department should not proceed with a major motorway programme on the basis of cost savings while major safety concerns continue to exist.