Highways England to trial increased speed limits through road work zones


Under new plans from Highways England (HE), drivers could be allowed to travel at increased speed through motorway road work zones depending on what day of the week they are traveling.

Acting on feedback from road users, HE is trying to reduce drivers’ frustration with road works. Following earlier trials to increase the speed limit through road works from 50mph (80km/h) to 55mph (88.5km/h) or even 60mph (96.5km/h), the company is going to test if varying speed limits could safely be operated within a set of road works without increasing the risks to either drivers or road workers.

For example, the speed could be increased to 60mph on a Sunday if there is less activity taking place, and then brought back down to 50mph when road workers are working within a few feet of passing traffic. The agency is also exploring if different speed limits could operate within one set of roadworks. This could mean people commute to work on one carriageway at 50mph as they are nearer the workforce, but drive home on the other carriageway at 60mph as the road workers are further away.

During road works narrow lanes are installed to provide a safe working area for the workforce. Doing this means as many lanes as possible can remain open to traffic. Currently HE operates a 50mph (or lower) limit in narrow lanes, but this year they will test whether it is safe to operate at 60mph in certain circumstances.

This might include consideration of the width of the narrow lanes, or the type of temporary safety barriers that are used. Locations for the trials are yet to be agreed. Once underway HE will monitor the speed of vehicles, flow of traffic, look at incident data, and gather customer feedback to determine its success. The trials are outlined in the agency’s Delivery Plan Update for 2018/19, that has just been published.

“People understand roadworks are necessary, but are also frustrated by them. At the same time, we have to ensure as they drive through them that they, and our road workers, are safe,” noted Jim O’Sullivan, HE’s chief executive (above).

“So, we are always thinking of new ways to improve journeys at the same time as keeping everyone as safe as we can. That is why over the next 12 months we will test changes to the design and operation of roadworks.

“We are also working hard to give drivers more and better information about their journeys, and to prepare our network for the future, for example the testing of roadside and vehicle technology, so we can continue to keep people, and the country, connected.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).