Plans are currently in place from the Highways Agency to improve England’s road network through a mix of widening roads and improvements to hard shoulders in and around the areas of Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.
The Highways Agency is an executive agency of the Department for Transport and it is in charge of the strategic road network across England. It was originally set up in 1994 to build and maintain the road network, but now offers travel information and actively manages the use of the roads.
This involves dealing with every minor or major problem that could arise across the motorways and major A roads that stretch the length and breadth of the country. Its work includes traffic management, reduction of congestion and improving safety on the roads that it oversees.
The Agency has a duty to keep road users updated on the latest developments on planned maintenance work and accidents that unfortunately occur. It actively works towards different ways to reduce the impact that road users have on the environment.
The Highways Agency understands the importance of knowing how its network can deliver the best service and that’s why it interacts with road users where possible. Its aim is to become the world’s leading road operator and with a strategic road network currently valued at over £88 billion, the Highaways Agency is doing its best to achieve this.
As part of its continued pledge to meet the requirements of our ever evolving world, the Highways Agency works towards a number of initiatives to improve road surfaces and traffic flows. Road signs to redirect traffic can only offer a temporary measure, especially if it’s a highly congested route, and so alternative measures need to be introduced.
One such road that suffers from the high volume of traffic that passes its way on a daily basis is the M25, one of Europe’s busiest motorways. This was a concern of the Orbit Multi Modal Study, which was a study designed to look towards future problems that will arise on the road network. The purpose of the study was to offer manageable solutions to any problems that may arise.
In May 2009, work commenced on widening the carriage ways between Junction 16 and 23 of the M25, transforming the road from three lanes to four in both directions. When work is complete the new lanes will use the hard shoulders that were previously in existence for the fourth lane. New hard shoulders will then be introduced to take their place.
The first stage of the operation, Junctions 16 to 18, was completed in summer 2010, with junctions 18 to 21 reaching completion a year later. The remaining work on Junctions 21 to 23 began in May 2011 and is currently set to run until June 2012. When finished, the new wider roads will help relieve congestion. This is important as it is scheduled to finish during summer 2012, just in time for London’s hosting of the 2012 Olympics.
On a long-term basis the widening scheme will improve both road safety and journey times for motorists. In addition, it promises to stem the amount of noise pollution affecting residential areas with the use of ‘noise’ reducing fences. The contractors working on the widening scheme are Balfour Beatty, Egis Road Operation UK, Skanska and Atkins and together all of the companies formed the appropriately named Connect Plus.
A similar widening scheme was introduced between Junctions 27 and 30 of the M1 to supply four dual lanes instead of three. This scheme makes up part of the Design, Build, Finance and Operate contract which is scheduled to finish by June 2012. The £6.2 billion project will see Connect Plus keep the motorway maintenance contract until 2039.
Another motorway improvement project currently in the works is the hard shoulder running scheme across a 25km stretch of the M1, between Junction 10 and 13. This area is an important section of the motorway as it creates a link between London, the Midlands and to the North of England. The scheme began work in autumn 2009 with a 3 year project time and is designed to reduce congestion that has previously occurred at Junctions 11 and 12.
The implementation of the scheme introduces a variety of key features to the existing section of the motorway and will improve travel conditions through an upgrade of innovative features. It will employ new responsive technology to keep drivers informed of what is happening on the roads ahead, which should speed up response times to any incidents that would ordinarily cause huge disruptions. The hard shoulder running scheme does this by providing drivers with informative signs, including important prompts for when to reduce speed if there are large queues ahead.
It will also include signals with speed limits displayed that will indicate the availability of less congested lanes, allowing traffic to be managed and directed to alternative routes.
The signals will be positioned so that drivers have plenty of time to make informed choices, so that there are no last minute snap decisions behind the wheel. As the information can change to offer the best possible driving solutions the signals will be used to enforce mandatory speed limits and to inform drivers of when not to use the hard shoulder.
The scheme will also include 37 designated emergency refuge areas, located at 800 metre intervals, as well as the introduction of new roadside telephones for emergency purposes. The hard shoulder running scheme will also include a new congestion and incident management system.
A scheme like this clearly takes a lot of organisation on a daily basis and so a control centre, operating around the clock, 365 days a year, will monitor the M1. This will include a CCTV camera system, road sensors and a system that will keep control centre operatives alerted to any major changes in the amount of traffic on the road. This will allow the control centre team to respond accordingly, so that during extremely busy times they can open up the hard shoulder for drivers’ use, reducing congestion.
The Highway Agency’s continued commitment to improving the roads in Britain has also recently seen improvements on the A421, M1 to Bedford route and will continue to offer support and advice to the huge volume of road users that travel the network every day. With Connect Plus’ maintenance contract lasting for 30 years and the Highway Agency directly monitoring the network, the roads around England are set to continue to evolve and adapt, to meet the demanding needs of its users.
Arcelor Mittal RPS UK
ArcelorMittal is the biggest steel making company in the world with a presence in over 60 countries. It also has a world class mining business with over 20 mines in operation and development across the globe, making it a market leading operation in steel sheet piling.
ArcelorMittal RPS produces steel sheet piles in Luxembourg from 100% scrap metal, using electric arc furnaces. The process involves placing scrap metal into furnaces, where it is melted down and turned into liquid steel. This is then purified to produce a very high yield of liquid steel for the sheet piles; making it a very green process.
ArcelorMittal RPS UK has worked with the Highways Agency contractors supplying steel sheet piling to motorway widening and hard shoulder running schemes in the UK. This includes technical input and advice at the design stage resulting in weight efficient solutions; meeting the strength criteria of the finished structure, but using less steel. The weight efficient AZ steel sheet piles from ArcelorMittal provide the Highways Agency with a significantly lower environmental impact as well as cost benefits.
Chiltern Thrustbore Ltd
For 17 years Chiltern Thrustbore Ltd has been specialists in horizontal directional drilling and laser guided auger boring. Over the past two years the company has extended its work base to also include sewer rehab projects, such as dealing with pipe bursting, drain relining and site excavation.
The company currently has ten rigs for directional drilling and auger boring in its fleet, which includes seven drills, installing pipe sizes ranging from 32mm to 900mm, to three auger bores, covering 100mm to 1200mm.
Chiltern Thrustbore worked as a subcontractor for the Highways Agency on M1 J10-J13 widening motorway crossings. The company employed cost cutting methods, which helped speed up the operation and reduce costs. As part of its work on motorway crossings Chiltern Thrustbore pushed steel pipes, at either 610mm or 508mm beneath the live carriage way, to meet its clients’ exact requirements.