The Highways Agency is set to defy Police concerns about road safety and switch to permanent hard shoulder use in its next tranche of managed motorways projects, NCE has learnt.
Work on a raft of managed motorway projects designed to use the hard shoulder permanently is about to start on site despite serious concerns expressed by some Police forces.
The Agency has decided that all managed motorway projects starting in 2013 will be designed to its new standard for all-lane running.
This is defined in interim advice note 161/12 published last year. The note also permits cutting the number of overhead sign gantries used - requiring them at motorway entry points only. It also allows the spacing between vehicle refuges to be increased from 500m to a maximum of 2.5km.
Schemes designed to the new standard include the section of the M1 between junctions 32 and 35a in South Yorkshire.
Head of roads policing for South Yorkshire, chief inspector Stuart Walne, told NCE he had “fundamental concerns” about the strategy.
“While we recognise that in the current financial climate the Highways Agency is trying to find the best overall system of safety in a number of areas, we are concerned that the scheme as designed for the M1 does not give us sufficient options to operate flexibly,” he said.
It is understood that other forces have expressed similar concerns, including Greater Manchester Police. It polices the M60, which is also scheduled to be converted to a managed motorway between junctions 8 and 12 next year.
The Agency has been consulting on the M1 managed motorways project publicly and with interested parties via the South Yorkshire Safer Roads Partnership which includes South Yorkshire Police. It said it was confident that its new standard was safe.
“The new managed motorway standard has evolved from our experience of existing hard shoulder running schemes on the M42 and M6. Our studies have shown that we can convert the hard shoulder to a permanent running lane with fewer gantries and refuge areas without compromising safety. With the spacing of refuges increased we expect to reduce their illegal or improper use and we will no longer need to activate processes of turning hard shoulder running on and off again,” said an Agency spokesman.
The Agency also claims that police concerns relate to one specific type of incident - that of vehicles stopping in a live lane at off-peak times.
However, Walne disputed this. “With all-lane running there is no natural safety break for traffic incidents.
“Emergency refuges do not provide this,” he said. “If things go wrong we have to be able to secure access to deal with traffic safety incidents, police roads and manage criminality that we know will happen.
“We have to be able to safely stop a vehicle and there is far less risk doing this on a hard shoulder than in a live lane.
“We have ongoing fundamental concerns with the Agency’s plans, but we are working to a collapsing time frame. The project is expected to start in April and at present we are not confident of having reached a solution that satisfies all parties.”