Our cover story this week is all about the challenges of travelling around Wales on public transport and why, therefore, the car is still growing in popularity. So I make no apologies for going all local and writing here about the trials of driving a private car in the south east, specifically over the river Thames between Kent and Essex on the M25.
Why is that remotely relevant to the wider world of civil engineering? Well, NCE is just embarking on an in depth piece of work with the Highways Agency looking at the next phase in the development of our motorways.
We’ll be reporting on how, with innovative thinking and up to date technology, rather than a lot of new construction, our existing stock will be transformed and cleverly worked to reduce congestion and improve safety.
The idea of hard shoulder running, now renamed as managed motorways, has improved the journeys of the West Midlands, and is about to be rolled out to the rest of us.
But the issue that still needs to be addressed is that, when you look at a map of the motorway network, an awful lot of roads lead to London.
“The effortless journeys of cars and trucks will be brought to a juddering halt at the biggest bottleneck in Britain − the Dartford Crossing.”
A significant proportion of the 30% extra capacity that should result from the managed motorway network will be cars and trucks on their way from or around the capital. But their effortless journeys will be brought to a juddering halt at the biggest bottleneck in Britain − the Dartford Crossing.
That’s why my trips are relevant. Because Dartford is a shocker right now, even before any capacity enhancements. And the question has to be what’s going to be done about it? At least there are discussions about a new crossing − although the chances of opening something within the next decade have to be pretty slim − unlike when the M25 first opened.
At that stage the government of the day was in complete denial as to the necessity for a new river crossing to join the existing two tunnels. As the queues snaked back for an hour each side of the river, the privately financed Queen Elizabeth II bridge was, finally, born.
“More exciting would be to adopt a number plate recognition charging scheme that would allow much of the traffic to flow freely over and under the river.”
The queues now snake back for 40 minutes and longer, even at 3pm on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and there is growing agitation for things to improve. The Highways Agency says it is considering “options”, so perhaps now is the time to suggest your own.
Mine would start with a speedy replacement of the ancient toll collection system. The toll rose from £1 to £1.50 a few months ago and it now takes twice as long for the old machines to take the money and open the barrier.
More exciting would be to adopt a number plate recognition charging scheme that would allow much of the traffic to flow freely over and under the river and turn Dartford from the problem relative of our brave new managed motorway family into the star performer. Can’t wait to find out what the Agency has up its sleeve. Just bring it on soon.
- Jackie Whitelaw is NCE’s deputy editor