Transport User Voice – June 2019 – Improving roads with users in mind

28 May 2019

Looking closely at roadworks across the West Midlands 

Early in May, Transport Focus joined Highways England in the West Midlands for a two-day visit with three primary objectives: 

  • to see, hear and understand the extent of ‘road user focus’ being pursued by Highways England across this region 
  • to see the latest innovations being tested to improve the journey experience for road users – based on Transport Focus research and input 
  • to understand the wider regional operations and challenges (including the advent of High Speed Two (HS2) construction works) as part of ongoing work to promote the road user voice.  

staff involved in this visit reflect the way Transport Focus works relentlessly to engage with all stakeholders involved in delivering road upgrade projects – in this case from Highways England’s senior team in the Midlands and key staff from its major projects directorate, from Kier Highways (Highways England’s primary maintenance contractor in the West Midlands), BMV (BAM Nuttall, Morgan Sindall and VolkerFitzpatrick – a joint venture delivering major repairs to Oldbury Viaduct on the M5), and the M6 toll operator.

A 16seater minibus – the largest vehicle you can safely use to get into roadworks zones – not only provided transport between various sites but also facilitated valuable conversations between all the stakeholders

Highlights included a site visit to the M6 J13-15 smart motorway upgrade, a huge project to demolish two overbridges that required the motorway to be shut for two weekendand has employed new kinds of electronic signage to keep road users up to date on progress with the works

At Doxey depot in Staffordshire the focus was winter operations, that is gritting. There was also a chance to see close up one of two new 70-foot bright yellow 16tonne mobile crash barriers brought over from America in collaboration with Kier to better protect road workers and make work easier to get done.     

That site visit was followed by a detailed discussion about the scale and impact of forthcoming HS2 works. Construction of HS2 will have to thread through the dense road network to the east of Birmingham and is likely to cause a lot of roadworks – so keeping road users in the loop about these works will be crucial. 

On a visit to the M6 toll, the group visited the control room and toll booths.   

Seeing the Oldbury Viaduct works at first-hand, it was clear how necessary but also how disruptive repairs to the elevated section of the M5 are, especially given the huge traffic volume (logistics company DPD alone puts out around 800 lorries every night from two depots nearby). Here it was clear that real effort is being made by Highways England to liaise with the freight industry, alongside using faster setting concrete to get lanes open again, and the use of social media and new roadside information billboards to communicate better with road users 

What this visit confirmed above all is that efforts by Transport Focus to secure changes such as clearer junction numbers on signs in contraflows, activity information boards and information about overall project progress are all making a positive difference for road users.

Better still, it was possible to see that there is more good practice to come.

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