Chron readers’ queries put to highways bosses over fears over ‘treacherous’ M1 in Northamptonshire

Safety Awareness Campaign for the M1 J19-16 roadworks. 'Brian Gash, group leader for the Smart Motorway Programme Major Projects, Highways Agency. NNL-150220-032322009
Safety Awareness Campaign for the M1 J19-16 roadworks. 'Brian Gash, group leader for the Smart Motorway Programme Major Projects, Highways Agency. NNL-150220-032322009

The jury is out as to whether a bid to tackle driver behaviour will make the Northampton stretch of the M1 safer to drive in the roadworks.

Chronicle & Echo readers believe the narrow lanes in place between junctions 16 and 19 are treacherous to drive in, even if all the road users are staying in lane, keeping under 50mph and observing their blind spots.

Safety Awareness Campaign for the M1 J19-16 roadworks. 'Brian Gash, group leader for the Smart Motorway Programme Major Projects, Highways Agency. NNL-150220-031941009

Safety Awareness Campaign for the M1 J19-16 roadworks. 'Brian Gash, group leader for the Smart Motorway Programme Major Projects, Highways Agency. NNL-150220-031941009

Lorry driver Jason Grant said: “I was sat passenger side in an HGV a couple of weeks ago, the driver was straight as an arrow in lane one, to be honest it was scary as hell.

“Within inches of the drains and kerb that can bounce a HGV at the slightest touch, as for seeing out of the driver’s mirror from passenger side, forget it.”

But the Highways Agency said it would not be reducing the roadworks to two lanes –even though many believe that would be a safer option – as it would reduce that section of motorway to a ‘standstill’.

Brian Gash, group leader for the Smart Motorway programme, said: “We could go down to two lanes and we could go down to 40 mph. But the effect that would have would be unpalatable. We certainly wouldn’t want to make that section any slower, though it could be safer.”

Chris Putrell, traffic management manager for contractors BmJV, said the company had three CCTV operatives watching 52 cameras along that stretch of the M1 around the clock, monitoring for any break-downs and problems.

Recovery vehicles are dispatched from four locations along the 22-mile stretch if a driver is stranded and the company is looking into the possibility of creating a lay-by.

But many Chron readers felt safety problems were inevitable, as long as the barrier replacement work continues.

Reader David O’Leary asked back in January: “Why are the teams not working 24/7?” But project manager for the scheme at BmJV, Adam Bunce, said contractors are working overnight six days a week.

He said: “It’s hard to tell as a passer-by because it is a long, narrow site. There are multiple work faces across a 22-mile stretch, so you won’t see a large concentration of people in one area at any given time.”

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The big question: Why do we need a new barrier in the first place?

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Many Chron readers have asked why the Highways Agency is undertaking such a long project to replace a central reservation barrier to improve safety, when the works have indirectly led to more than 100 people being involved in accidents.

But Asad Khan, project manager at the Highways Agency for M1 junctions 16 to 19, said the 30-year-old former steel barrier had reached the end of its lifespan and would be a danger to keep in place.

He said the new concrete barrier was ‘more rigid’ and had two steel wires running through it, which should enable it to withstand a ‘truck impact’.

Project manager for BmJV, Adam Bunce, said the new barrier greatly reduced the risk of a car hitting the barrier and passing on to the oncoming carriageway.

He added: “A concrete barrier does not need repairing as much as a steel barrier should there be an accident. There is less requirement for maintenance.”