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Motorway Maintenance

Volume 983: debated on Wednesday 23 April 1980

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asked the Minister of Transport if he is satisfied with the present safety measures operating on motorways during maintenance work involving contra-flow systems.

I am as satisfied as anyone can be that safety measures at motorway repair sites strike a reasonable balance between keeping traffic moving safely while completing essential repairs quickly and economically.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his reply, but is he aware that there is great concern, particularly in the Midlands, where tragic accidents have recently taken place on the M5 and M6 as a result of cross-overs in contra-flow situations? Is he further aware that several local private enterprise companies are considering developing innovations which may help that problem? Will he at least consider those innovations?

I know of one bad accident in particular, and there have been several others. Unfortunately the figures for accidents rise slightly when such repairs are carried out. However, the motorways remain safer than the road network as a whole. The contraflow system has been considerably improved over the past two or three years. We are always happy to look at any suggested innovations, particularly those that will improve the safety of those passing such sites.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that considerable inconvenience was caused to holidaymakers over Easter where the M5 passes near to Taunton because the road is under repair and the flow of traffic was restricted to one lane in one direction, and two lanes in the other? Will he ensure that the four lanes capable of carrying traffic and the hard shoulder are put to use at peak times during the coming statutory holiday periods?

I saw the considerable traffic jams that occurred on that stretch of road. As much carriageway as possible was kept in use. I am afraid that there is bound to be some delay when major structural repairs are carried out on motorways. We are anxious to complete the work at Taunton by June so that the worst inconvenience will not occur during the height of the holiday period.

Is the Minister aware that often, following the completion of maintenance work on motorways, contra-flow systems remain in operation? Is he further aware that other obstructions are put in the motorists' way? Will he undertake to examine how long such systems remain and whether the length of time can be shortened?

Whenever I get reports on such delays, I try to follow them up. Obviously we do not want a contra-flow system in operation for longer than is necessary. Our policy is that there should not be any unnecessary delay. It is not as simple as it is sometimes thought to take the whole thing away and then put it back to avoid particularly congested periods.