The Highways Agency's corporate plan, 'Customers First', places great emphasis on the need to balance maintaining the road in a safe condition against minimising disruption to route users.
With this in mind, extensive traffic analysis was carried out before works began to identify the time of year when traffic flows would be at their lowest. Monday 19 September was chosen for the start - two weeks after the school holidays ended.
A assive ublicity campaign was launched ahead of the works, with 50,000 brochures produced and distributed. Two mail shots were sent to 11,700 local residents, and press briefings were held in conjunction with numerous press releases. A public exhibition was held on 9 September, with over 250 people in attendance - far more than expected.
So after all that preplanning it came as some surprise when, on the first Friday of the scheme, gridlock and chaos descended on the A38. The local press dubbed it 'Black Friday'.
'We were caught out, ' says Heron. 'The first Friday coincided with the second weekend after the summer holidays. What we hadn't realised is that those two weeks are popular with those without children, and they were all returning that weekend. What made it worse was that the weather forecast for the weekend was bad, so they all came back early.' Thankfully, since then there have been no major problems. Heron hopes things will get even better soon when, for the fi rst time in the UK, there will be site-specific, real-time traffic information available to motorists.
A website will be available to enable customers to view 'live' and continually updated traffic information, and portable variable message signs will be set up 10km from the works in both directions, so that motorists stuck in any traffic can at least know how long they will be delayed.