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Road User Voice – June 2015 – Are roadworks that big a problem?

22 June 2015

When it comes to the strength of feeling of those using motorways and trunk roads, the clear answer from our initial research is ‘yes’. This will clearly be an important issue for Transport Focus, particularly as the Government’s road investment programme gets underway and much more construction work is carried out.

Our research into road user needs and experiences gathered the views of a wide range of personal and business/freight road users in a number of focus groups and in-depth interviews, representing the full range of road users. All reported being affected by roadworks at some point. They take a pragmatic approach, as the need for roadworks is recognised. However, users feel the planning of the work is not efficient enough, and that the impact on them is worse than it needs to be.

There are three main areas of dissatisfaction:

  • Lanes are coned off for longer stretches of road than seems necessary
    Users understand that a speed restriction will be needed to protect the workforce, but where this goes on for several miles it causes resentment. Road users claim they would prefer shorter stretches closed off as and when needed, even if that means frequent changes.
  • Roadworks are kept in place for a much longer period of time than seems necessary
    Sometimes signing will, without explanation, point to lane closures due to last several months or years.
  • The lack of visible activity where lanes are closed
    This is probably the biggest source of irritation. Users become frustrated when they are inconvenienced and yet no work appears to be taking place.

Much of this dissatisfaction probably arises from lack of understanding – the fact that road users generally get to find out little about why the work is needed in the first place, and why it is being carried out the way it is. They assume Highways England must have the expertise in how to plan roadworks, but they are puzzled that the outcome often doesn’t make sense to them. They sense that works are timed for the summer holidays, just when families are making long journeys. Some users think that lack of resources may be to blame for the shortcomings they perceive, and some suspect that the problem is exacerbated by the need to spend what money there is all at once before an annual budget runs out.

We also sought views on the diversions that are sometimes put in place around planned work. Most users don’t experience this often enough to have strong views, but HGV drivers are much more likely to be affected, particularly by night-time closures. They want to see careful planning to ensure suitable alternatives which minimise inconvenience. HGV drivers are also more likely to use major roads abroad as well – and they generally report a more positive experience there.

Transport Focus will be probing these issues more fully to help Highways England understand how best to maintain road user satisfaction during the huge – and welcome – capital investment that will go into the SRN over the next five years.

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