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Getting Smart(er): on the road with Highways England North West

There is no substitute for getting down to the front line to see what is really going on. As part of an attempt to visit all the Highways England areas Transport Focus works with, last week I went to see what is happening in or around Manchester and Cheshire on the Strategic Road Network.

Leaving the city centre we hit the Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) roadworks on Regent Road (A57) – a vivid reminder of how important co-operation is between Highways England and local authorities. Then we went up the M602 towards the major smart motorway upgrade on the M62 between junctions 10-12 and we stopped at the works depot in Eccles.

It was good to see:

  • Highways England’s safety culture present and active – both for workers and road users
  • good staff – both Highways England and its contractors – who are keen, interested and motivated
  • real interest in customer feedback – a clear desire to ‘get it right’ for drivers based on insight work
  • innovation in action – many different things were being delivered on M62 scheme, including a robot white line painter. Safer and quicker!
  • the sheer volume of traffic – trucks in particular; these roads matter, they keep the country moving.

Transport Focus’s recent insight report on the experience of drivers using the M4 during current roadworks to deliver a ‘smart’ motorway upgrade will help with these sorts of project in the future.

Next, we went down the M6 towards Knutsford. Here it was fascinating to see ‘before and after’ the smart upgrade – relatively free flowing versus backed-up traffic. This was followed by a visit to Highways England’s traffic officer outstation near Knutsford services and a further drive back up the new (ish) A556. This road felt like driving somewhere on the continent! Smart, well built, and well laid out. We also saw the old road that it replaced – now known as the ‘de-trunked B5569’ with much improved facilities for cycling and walking. The old road must have been hell for drivers and residents!

Around all of this there was a lot of discussion:

  • Highways England North West is now hitting 85 per cent of incidents cleared under an hour – one of Transport Focus’s our key concerns
  • Highways England has a good relationship with Transport for Greater Manchester
  • air and noise quality issues are soaring up agenda
  • how can Highways England make a differences as traffic levels rise and roadworks bite?
  • how can Transport Focus offer more insight into driver behaviour?
  • what drives road user satisfaction? You can find out more about this using the new Strategic Road User Survey (via the Transport Focus data hub any time, or from a report summarising key results from the first year of this survey that will publish in a few weeks’ time).
  • a new road planned for the Rimrose Valley to improve the approaches to the port of Liverpool will be challenging.

So, a lot of encouraging progress in evidence, but big challenges remain.

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