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Broad shoulders: The M1's first managed motorway scheme

Less congestion, better information, greater safety and quicker incident response will add up to good news for drivers using junctions 10 to 13 of the M1 from spring 2013. The full managed motorway toolkit of technologies and operating procedures including hard shoulder running and variable speed limits will ease traffic through a notorious pinch point.

Work began − officially − last week when transport minister Chris Mole formally declared the site open. Thirty-six months should see completion of the scheme, which includes major modifications to junctions 11 and 12.

“The M1 in Bedfordshire is the first stretch of motorway outside the West Midlands where we are introducing a managed motorways scheme. This means the hard shoulder can be opened as a running lane at busy times to ease congestion.

“This is part of the government’s commitment to delivering innovative solutions to tackle congestion. Two such schemes are already successfully operating on sections of the M6 and the M42 in the West Midlands,” Mole said.

Government spending power

The government pledged up to £6bn for roads last year, to be spent by 2015 − much of it on managed motorway installation. Much of it will go on the M1 where capacity increases are vital. Managed motorways may not involve heavy civil engineering but they do constitute worthwhile workload and the opportunity to develop skills in what eventually could be a huge market for traffic control infrastructure.

A Costain-Carillion joint venture (CCJV) has the contract for converting junctions 10 to 13 of the M1 to 21st century hi-tech operation. Work actually (as opposed to officially) began on site last December. Already, initial signs are that installation of the paraphernalia of motorway management is going smoothly and well − a testament to systems and practice at least partially developed during the M42 trial (see box below).

Not that complex science is involved, according to CCJV project director Bruce Richards. “In all, we’ve got to stabilise in places the motorway’s hard shoulders, resurface these hard shoulders (with some full depth reconstruction), create about 30 emergency refuge areas (ERAs), install 60 full width gantries complete with signage and couple up the electrics. Quite simple, really,” he says.

“The intention is to maintain dual, three lane capacity on the M1 through the normal working day”

Keith Hutchinson

Richards, though, is understating the challenges. Most significant of these is providing sufficient work space while keeping three lanes of traffic open in both directions at nearly all times, along the full 25km of motorway involved in the scheme.

Junction 10 is south of Luton, junction 13 near Bedford. Close to 140,000 vehicles use this stretch each day, a fifth of them HGVs. Luton Airport alone generates lots of traffic. The contract is being divided into three sections − south (junctions 10 to 11), north (junctions 12 to 13) and midway (junctions 11 to 12) − with each section comprising three elements: northbound, southbound and central reserve.

Upgrading is to take place sequentially, starting with the south section’s northbound carriageway. There, Varioguard safety barrier has been installed to fence off lane one and its adjacent hard shoulder to create a work site. Lanes two and three are being kept open and a contraflow provides a third northbound lane on the other side of the central reserve.

M1 workers on site

M1 workers on site

Traffic going south can make use of the southbound carriageway’s hard shoulder plus lanes one and two. Route performance manager of client the Highways Agency (HA) is Keith Hutchinson. “The intention is to maintain dual, three lane capacity on the M1 through the normal working day and into the evening, with the possibility of cutting back to as little as a single lane in each direction at night,” he says.

It is Hutchinson’s job to look at the bigger picture: he has to evaluate the effect of restrictions on the M1 upon other routes − notably the M25, A1, M11 and A40 − and vice versa. “There has to be a high level of coordination,” he says.

That comment can be widened to apply to the whole M1 project. Project management is another challenge facing CCJV, not least because of the fragmented nature of the contract. After works are complete on the south section’s, northbound carriageway, activity moves across the road to the south section’s, southbound carriageway. After that work moves to the central reserve.

Work will begin on the north section, northbound after Easter, followed by that section’s southbound element and then its central reserve. Last on the list are the three elements of the midway stage, to begin next year. “The midway stage embraces the two junctions on which a lot of work is planned − junction 11 and junction 12. These two are subject to a public enquiry scheduled for this summer,” says Richards.

Public enquiry

The results of the enquiry cannot be anticipated, so work on the two junctions plus the length of motorway between them has been programmed relatively late in the contract.

The lack of certainty over the two junctions explains at least in part why the Highways Agency is quoting a range of prices for the M1 project − from £326M to £503M. CCJV’s current contract is valued at £266M.)

“Carrying out this job is all about logistics, it will involve a lot of to-ing and fro-ing,” says Richards. The civils work is not huge but “bitty”. “We’ve got about 7km of soil nailing, a similar length of contiguous sheet steel and CFA piling and a good deal of work on existing batters. Plus, the hard shoulder upgrading, ERAs, many kilometres of cable ducting and numerous foundations for gantries.”

Then, eventually, will come assembly and installation of the gantries themselves.

“They are big beasts, up to 45m in length. We’ve not yet decided on signage fit-out, whether it should be done offsite under cover like on the M42 pilot or close to each gantry’s final position.”

The gantries are heavy to shift around, even heavier with signs attached.

“The gantries are up to 45m long. We’ve not decided whether signage fit out should be done off site or close to each gantry’s final position.”

Bruce Richards

Safety has been given intense consideration, even down to the smallest practical detail. If a machine is working on the hard shoulder, for instance, site traffic cannot pass by without the plant operator being alerted and gates blocking the way physically removed.

CCJV health, safety and environmental manager Martin Kuhn heads up a team of six.

“What with enabling works and all else, we’ve already notched up many thousands of man hours during which there have been no reportable accidents.”

In its earlier incarnation, the M1 junctions 10 to 13 contract was let in 2005 to a joint venture of Costain with Mowlem for a motorway widening scheme.

Mowlem was subsequently acquired by Carillion and the widening was abandoned in 2009 in favour of managed motorway.

Consultants’ roles

Two consultants have played a hefty role in getting the project to where it is today: Parsons Brinckerhoff, which has been involved since 2002 on the HA’s behalf and from 2005 as supervisor; and Scott Wilson, CCJV’s designer from the time the contact was awarded.

The contract was an early contractor involvement one so a good deal of work had been carried out before the decision came to fundamentally change the nature of the job.

Could any of this work be carried over to the managed motorway scheme?

“Some of it could, but not all,” says Highways Agency senior project manager John Bourne. “The environmental statement, for example, was applicable but the site investigation was not. The original site investigation related to land take for the widening − but the scheme going forward is within existing boundaries. We’re now having to carry out further investigation, this time for the hard shoulders, the ERAs and the gantry foundations.

“But we do know all about the newts,” he adds.

Hard shoulder running

M1 managed motorway

A managed motorway is one where the hard shoulder can be used as a running lane during congested times.

Speed limits can be altered to suit traffic levels, vehicular access can be managed, a high level of information imparted to drivers and reaction to breakdowns and accidents is made more rapid. In short, a high-tech motorway

The idea is to sweat what is an existing transportation asset to get more out of it − at a lower cost and quicker time than by widening. The concept relies heavily on technology, particularly electronic systems of surveillance, communication and control.

Claimed benefits to motorway users include fewer hold ups, less congestion (meaning better fuel consumption and fewer emissions), more information and higher levels of safety. The concept was developed and trialled on the M42 south of Birmingham.

Readers' comments (1)

  • The commentary above refers to a Public Enquiry. An Inquiry would be more appropriate and would show that contractors do at least know the correct terminology to be applied in such circumstances.

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