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Managed motorways: Delivering efficiency

The Highways Agency is about to embark on a vast programme of work to create a network of managed motorways in England that will control driving speeds and open up the hard shoulder to drivers to increase capacity. The end result should be a revolution in motorway travel with much smoother, safer trips for drivers, and reliable though not necessarily faster, journey times. Jackie Whitelaw reports.

In just over five years’ time an extra 340 lane miles of motorway will be helping relieve congestion on some of the busiest parts of the English road network through the seemingly simple expedient of allowing drivers onto the hard shoulder.

This full scale rollout of managed motorway schemes will herald a revolution in how drivers drive and how the routes are operated. And for the first time in a generation it should be possible to significantly improve journey time reliability on the motorway network, relieving stress and in the process making our highways much safer places to be.

It is going to require an investment of up to £3bn, half the current roads programme, to convert the carriageways from the current anarchic, free running to a managed system. A total of nine schemes are in the programme (see map p29), with a further seven scheduled to start by 2015.

Together they will add an extra 30% to motorway capacity in England. And there are another 12 schemes waiting in the wings for delivery beyond 2015.

Up to the challenge

All will require the roads construction sector to step up to the challenge of delivering highly technical, electronic communications-led schemes that work without a hitch from the first day they go live. At the same time, the programme will convert the Highways Agency, which owns the motorways, into an active transport operator rather than the more conventional build and maintenance business of old.

If all goes to plan, our motorways in 2016 − particularly around the big cities − will be very different places to the stop start congested hell on earth that they can be now.

All the staff within the Highways Agency in charge of turning on the managed motorways are hugely energised and enthusiastic about the changes ahead − the new approach to standards, procurement, design and delivery they require are stimulating the Agency’s collective little grey cells.

Derek Turner CV:

  • Joined Highways Agency April 2005
  • Managing director of Transport for London Street Management 2000-2003
  • Awarded the CBE for services to transport in London
  • Graduated in civil and structural engineering from Sheffield University 1974
  • Chartered civil engineer
  • Member of the policy committee of the Royal Academy of Engineering
  • Visiting professor in civil and environmental engineering at the Centre for Transport Studies, University College London


Some of the biggest impacts will be felt in operations. The people on the front line will have the opportunity to run the motorways in a way that could be said to approach that of an efficient railway system. But there’s a lot to do in the mean time, not least in helping drivers understand what a managed motorway actually means.

“These schemes will be dynamic use of the hard shoulder,” explains the Agency’s network operations director Derek Turner. “We allow traffic to use the hard shoulder in a controlled way at certain times of day when conditions are appropriate. It’s live. There’s no general right to use the hard shoulder between 4pm and 7pm for instance. That is what gives motorists confidence that we are managing the system.”

Anybody who has been driving on the M42 round Birmingham will understand this of course.

“We allow traffic to use the hard shoulder in a controlled way at certain times of day when conditions are appropriate. It’s live.”

Derek Turner, Highways Agency

This is where the Highways Agency tried out hard shoulder running with the pilot active traffic management, which opened in 2006. Gantries over the road tell motorists when the hard shoulder is open for their use and what speed to drive at. They also say, via the medium of a big red X, when it is not open.

A series of emergency refuges take the place of the hard shoulder for vehicles in trouble. Journey reliability, safety and pollution have all improved dramatically, says the Agency.

The Agency is now putting in place the next generation of managed motorway on the road network around Birmingham known as the Birmingham Box (see feature p36). “Experience from the M42 pilot has allowed us to loosen the belt and braces approach we had there, as we have the evidence that drivers understand the system and can use it safely,” Turner says.

As a result, speed limits of 50mph on the M42 pilot were safely increased to 60mph, and information gantries and emergency refuge areas on future schemes will be spaced at 800m rather than 500m as they were on the M42 pilot.

This will all be continued into the first big phase of the managed motorway programme, along with excitingly named ideas like through junction running − which means continuing hard shoulder running at junctions (see ‘Refining the art’).

Putting it into practice

Managed motorway

Managed motorway: designed to keep busy roads moving

Divisional director Nick Hopcraft leads the Highways Agency’s managed motorway delivery office, and he − and what will be a lean team of about 20 from within the different divisions of the Agency − are there to drive value for money across the whole delivery process.

“We are here to apply programme management principles to delivery,” he says.

“Managed motorways comprises a number of discrete ‘on-road’ projects being managed locally, coupled with work linking to and in the regional control centres. What we do is act as the hub, integrating delivery and coordinating functions. We are looking at the full portfolio of work, tying everything together to get more efficient delivery and make procurement savings.

“We want to manage our supply chain far more effectively − especially those critical areas where we do not have great depth − so by knowing our requirements across the whole portfolio of work, we can plan, and optimise, smoothing delivery. So if we want 100 gantries, we plan on, say, five gantries a week for the next 20 weeks. The industry can then plan around that in managed way.

“We are trying to create a standardised approach to how the managed motorway looks, so drivers know what to expect. Rather than six consultants designing six solutions we are getting them to work together on a standard design that will look and feel the same for customers.

“Atkins, Jacobs, Pell Frischmann, Mouchel, Waterman and Scott Wilson are in the group and we hope the designs will be pretty much there when the delivery partners come to take them on early in 2010. Delivery partners will be a major step forward, and they’ll be working collaboratively with us to find new innovations and help deliver efficiencies.

“In the past the motorway has been built using existing standards. The managed motorway is about determining a safe operating regime to deliver by.”

Hopcraft has been in the highways business his entire career and has been with the Agency since 1994. That’s a benefit when you are trying to create a system that works across departmental boundaries. “I know a lot of people and I can talk to them,” he says. “We don’t think we know all the answers though. We are learning all the time.

“We are keen on new ideas. We know through learning we can improve. What is for sure is that we are all working to make this a success.”

Nick Hopcraft, Highways Agency divisional director

Nick Hopcraft, Highways Agency divisional director


Bids are due by the end of this month (September) on a parcel of seven schemes, and the Agency is looking for up to four delivery partners to make them a reality. Winners should be announced in December or January, with work due to start almost immediately. The Agency has also brought forward £300M of maintenance work, a significant proportion of which will be invested in beefing up the hard shoulder on older motorways to take increased traffic loading as part of the government’s fiscal stimulus.

“We are asking the delivery partners to design for operation,” Turner says. “Previously, our jobs were civil engineering based schemes, and if the landscaping wasn’t completely finished you could still open the road. With the managed motorway work, unless the technology is commissioned, you can’t open.

“I believe that, with the rollout of the managed motorway, it is time to start thinking that intelligent transport systems are here. This is the first application on a substantial scale.”

Derek Turner, Highways Agency

“It’s much more similar to a signalling system on a railway. And its going to require the delivery partners to make sure their technology tier two suppliers are much more closely integrated into the delivery teams,” he says. “I believe that, with the rollout of the managed motorway, it is time to start thinking that intelligent transport systems are here. This is the first application on a substantial scale.

“I can’t stress the dynamic nature enough. We understand what’s going on and we can control it. It is much more of a closed system than there has ever been before on the roads.”

Closely spaced sensor loops in the roads and cameras will all feed information back to Agency control centres which can then make the call to change speed limits and open the hard shoulder. The added benefit is that, if there is a crash, it can close lanes and divert traffic; and it can do the same for maintenance work.

“We can marshall the traffic remotely, close a lane, then put out the barriers for road works − so much safer for the maintenance crews,” Turner says.

Ticking all the boxes

The Agency has opted for the managed motorways programme because it was no longer sensible to just keep widening. “The logic behind the M42 pilot was that to carry on widening was not sustainable economically or environmentally,” says Highways Agency major projects director Nirmal Kotecha. “And what the pilot demonstrated was that we can deliver the same capacity as conventional widening for 40% less cost and tick all the boxes on safety, carbon reduction, emission reduction etc.”

With the rollout, the challenge now is to do the work quickly, cost efficiently and use the skills of delivery partners to deliver more efficiencies and innovation by working in collaboration across the whole programme, Kotecha says. “Traditionally we have let work on a scheme by scheme basis. Now we are appointing a number of partners to work with us to deliver a defined programme of work.

What we need from them is a willingness to listen and share best practice, a desire to operate collaboratively and to start engaging visibly with the supply chain tier below them.

“It’s a fantastic opportunity − to modernise the network and change the way the supply chain interrelates with us.”

Nirmal Kotecha, Highways Agency

“The Agency will also have to collaborate internally − across major projects, network operations, network services, information etc. Unless we are joined up, what we ask for from our suppliers won’t happen. We have set up the managed motorway delivery office to aid that and aggregate scale economies (see box).”

Suppliers, says Kotecha, are very motivated by the new ideas. “They want to be in at the beginning as it gives them an advantage for the future as the programme develops. And commercially we are creating a model to incentivise them to make efficiencies (see p28). “It’s a fantastic opportunity − to modernise the network and change the way the supply chain interrelates with us.”

All the effort promises a new vision of road transport in England. The last word goes to Turner: “In five years we’ll be moving around more reliably,” he promises. “You’ll know with greater certainty what time your journey will take and there won’t be the congestion or the incidents. You may be travelling at 50mph or 60 mph, but you’ll be travelling.”

Nirmal Kotecha

Nirmal Kotecha

Nirmal Kotecha

Managed motorways brings together every directorate of the Highways Agency working in collaboration through a newly created managed motorways delivery office. One of those directorates involved is Major Projects, which last year appointed a new head, Nirmal Kotecha, who joined the Agency after a career mainly spent in the utilities sector.

This background made a surprise choice for many in the industry, but at the time of his appointment he told NCE that he sees himself as “an agent of change − someone who can challenge the status quo, who is not afraid of change”.

Kotecha was born and brought up in Nairobi, Kenya, and studied European business at Trent Polytechnic and the University of Paderborn, in Germany. He later gained an MBA from Loughborough University. He spent 10 years at British Gas, four at Centrica and one at British Sugar before joining Anglian Water in 1999. At the time of his move to the Highways Agency he was Anglian Water’s alliance director and head of supply chain management.

When interviewed by NCE last year he described his CV credentials as “leadership” and “understanding the supply chain”. “I have developed commercial models that drive behaviour to unlock value,” he says.

He is keen to develop contracting strategies that are “fit for purpose”, rather than relying entirely on Early Contractor Involvement (ECI). “As evidenced by the M25, we are not averse to DBFO, where the right economics and risk stack-up,” he says. “My background is based on collaborative frameworks, alliance-type models. There is a whole spectrum available to us, but I will not commit to one size fits all.”

His strategy for working with the supply chain is “about squeezing waste, not about squeezing margins”, he says. “I want to tackle the 90% that’s beneath overhead and fee. That is where the real step-change is going to be.”

“For the agency and its supply chain to get back on the front foot, we need to get back to a place where we are in control, we understand our costs, we know where waste is and we know we can outperform,” he told NCE last year.

Kotecha, whose annual budget is in the region of £1bn a year, is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS), and lives in Leicester with his wife and two children. His interests include squash, golf and − despite living in the East Midlands for most of his life − Manchester United.

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