We’ve all been there, you’re driving down the motorway when suddenly three lanes are being squished into one. A row of cones funnelling everyone into a narrow snake of traffic. A sluggish tailback ensues as you all filter through the single track.
But the worst bit comes when you look to the right. All you can see is a barren wasteland of coned off tarmac. There’s no heavy machinery. No workers. Just cones and empty lanes.
It’s one of the most infuriating things. Roadworks with no ‘works’ actually happening. Or speed limits through a ‘works’ section which appears to have been vacated a long time ago.
To kerb, the enthusiasm for unnecessary closures, a new congestion-busting scheme is going be rolled out by the end of 2019.
First trialled in Kent and London, local authorities have been charging utility companies up to £2,500 a day to dig up the busiest roads during their peak times. To keep costs down companies are now working together so they don’t have to rip up the same piece of asphalt twice. Since its introduction in 2015 collaboration between utility providers has happened over 600 times, beforehand the same sort of joined up thinking only happened 100 times.
It has also incentivised work to be carried out overnight when the roads are less busy and cause less of an inconvenience.
Every year around 2.5 million roadworks are carried out across the UK, costing the economy roughly £4.3 billion in increased business costs either through late deliveries or lost employee time.
Last year a study by Inrix concluded that London is the 10th worst congested city in the world and the 2nd most congested in Europe. Drivers in our capital spend an average of 74 hours in gridlock each year, with these traffic jams costing London drivers around £2,430 in lost time and productivity. The capital as a whole loses 9.5 billion from direct and indirect costs.
The average speed to drive in and out of London at peak times is just 12.8 MPH, with speeds falling from around 20 MPH at peak times during the day to a woeful 3.9 MPH when traffic was at its worst.
Transport around our road networks should be swift and easy, a number of initiatives have already been put into place with the aim of making our journeys as stress-free as possible. But it makes you wonder why it’s taken so long for such clever thinking when it comes to roadworks.
Should it not have always been the case that to dig up the roads and access a certain piece of utility network others in that vicinity should be contacted? If BT are fixing or laying cable for fibre broadband and it’s next to the gas main, surely the National Grid should be approached and asked if any maintenance work needs carrying out at the same time. It just makes sense.
You wouldn’t take your car to the garage to have the oil changed one week and the filter swapped the next.
This new way of keeping Britain moving was actually devised last year through a government consultation. So far the charges can be on a sliding scale, to reflect the costs caused by congestion. They hope the new fee will reduce the time taken to carry out roadworks, improve their planning and working methods, enable work to be carried out outside of peak time’s - such as weekends or evenings, and to make sure works are completed to the required standard the first time around; negating the need for costly remedial work in the future.
So far, the permit schemes are making a real difference. Around 65% of authorities have put them in place, and they’ve seen the length of disruption from roadworks reduce by more than 3 days. That’s great news for frustrated commuters.
But what about the other 35% of authorities? They're being asked to introduce the schemes too. With reduced lengths of roadworks meaning fewer disrupted journeys and less of a burden on businesses, it can only be a matter of time before they get onboard.
Idle cones may soon be a thing of the past.