Highways England told to get roads moving after incidents

A minister has asked Highways England to improve the speed at which it re-opens sections of the strategic road network after incidents as new data suggests traffic jams on motorways and A roads costs the economy £9bn a year.

A Department for Transport spokesman confirmed that Jesse Norman has written to the Government-owned company to suggest ways to re-open roads more quickly after incidents such as crashes and fuel spills, including using slip roads as contraflows.

The spokesman told Highways: ‘Ministers are always in regular contact with Highways England, discussing what lessons can be learned.’

Traffic data company Inrix analysed disruption on motorways and A roads from September 2016 to August 2017. Based on a series of assumptions, it said this cost £9bn in wasted time, fuel and extra carbon emissions.

Graham Cookson, chief economist at Inrix, said: ‘While queuing is considered a national pastime for many Brits, nothing is more frustrating than sitting in traffic and it’s a costly activity.

‘Jams can be caused by all kinds of incidents but fuel spillages, emergency repairs and broken down lorries contributed to the biggest pile-ups this year.’

Inrix said the year’s worst jam came in August on the M5 in Somerset, when a collision between two lorries resulting in a fuel spill meant the carriageway had to be resurfaced. This caused 15 hours of traffic jams, which reached 36 miles at their peak.

Mel Clarke, customer service director at Highways England, said: ‘In our first two years we met our target to clear 85% of all incidents on our network within an hour and last year exceeded our target to keep 97% of lanes available to road users, to help smooth the flow of traffic. We continue to work closely with police, local authorities and other partners to improve the way we work together.

RAC roads policy spokesman Nick Lyes said: Congestion is a major cause of frustration for motorists and delays undoubtedly have a significant negative impact on the UK’s economy. We now have record numbers of vehicles and a road network that struggles to cope with the increased volume of traffic. This is very clearly demonstrated on a daily basis with congestion at key pinch-points around the country.

‘Sadly, the fragility of the road network is exposed whenever there is a major incident on a motorway. The fall-out effect of motorists seeking alternative routes causes serious traffic jams in surrounding areas, often bringing gridlock to towns and cities as a result. While clearing the aftermath of a major motorway accident is understandably time-consuming, more needs to be done by all the agencies involved to speed up reopening and to improve diversion routes.’

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