Highways England insists M1 through Northampton will get safer as incidents increase more than seven-fold
“This scheme will ease congestion and make journey times more reliable during busy periods.”
That is what Highways England has promised once a smart motorway – with “all lanes running” – is completed on the M1 between Northampton and Milton Keynes.
So far, however, all it's speed-limited roadworks - put in place while work is carried out on the ultimate - has done is frustrate large numbers of drivers. And, as the Chron’s research shows it has coincided with a significant rise in incidents caused by accidents and breakdowns.
So far this year, Highways England has reported 15 major incidents between junctions 14 and 15.
Last year in the same period there were only two.
The dangers seem to be split into two categories; those related to the loss of hard shoulder and those caused by the narrowing of lanes.
And there is no shortage of drivers keen to share their tales of running the gauntlet on a daily basis.
Frankie Chase said: “Last Wednesday morning it took me an hour and a half to travel from junction 15 to 14 because of a broken down lorry in the middle lane, closing two lanes and an accident after that closing another lane. All avoidable if there was a layby.”
And Elaine Rivers-Jolly said: “[Smart motorways] are the worst things ever invented. I have been on the M1 when fire, police and ambulance cannot get through to an accident because people won’t and cannot move.”
The fifteen serious incidents between Jan 1 and March 27
January 23 - All lanes blocked southbound
January 25 - Two lanes blocked after accident.
January 25 -Separate accident
February 1 - Lane 1 closed, broken down van
February 3 - Lane 1 blocked, multi-vehicle collision
February 14 - Several crashes southbound in roadworks area
February 26 - Lanes 1 and 3 “compromised” after crash
March 4 - Lane 1 blocked by broken-down vehicle
March 4 - Number of accidents, eight miles of congestion
March 7 - Closed southbound due to crash. Traffic “at a standstill”.
March 8 - Lane blocked after road traffic accident
March 19 - HGV broke down, two lanes closed
March 19 - Collision
Mar 26 - Lane closed due to two-vehicle accident
March 27 - One lane closed after crash
Northampton North MP Michael Ellis has promised to ask the Government to make the junction 14 to 15 stretch safer.
He said: “I’m concerned about these reports.
“There’s no doubt there’s extra challenges in heavy traffic, especially in those prolonged works.
“I’ll be contacting the Highways England to ask what it can do to mitigate and reduce accidents.”
But the Conservative member rejected the suggestion that drivers not responding to smart motorway signs in the right way was the source of the problem.
Mr Ellis said: “I don’t think that’s the case.
“It’s more about sometimes the lanes being reduced in width.
“It’s not about the drivers, it’s about how the roadworks are laid out.”
Highways England says it wants drivers to feel safe.
During construction of this scheme, there will be:
· Three lanes open to traffic in each direction
· Free breakdown recovery service along the extent of the scheme
· 24-hour CCTV coverage to identify incidents and allow timely recovery
· Planned diversion routes
A spokesman said: “We have and will continue to make some changes to the design of motorways. This includes making emergency areas more visible; introducing systems that detect stationary vehicles; and raising awareness of the need to comply with lane closures.”
Three-year monitoring reports on other smart motorways show the casualty rate has reduced by 27 per cent compared with the motorways they replaced.
In the meantime, Northampton motorists will hope long-term safety is worth the current rate of accidents and disruption.