Highways England rejects contraflow proposal

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Highways England has rejected a contraflow on the M20 in Kent during Operation Stack, saying that it poses an unacceptable risk to road users during its operation, a decision described as “extremely frustrating” by the Freight Transport Association.

The FTA had suggested the idea of a contraflow during an Operation Stack Summit hosted by Kent County Council (KCC), when it was proposed as a possible short-term solution throughout the summer to keep traffic moving on the M20 in Kent.

A Highways England spokesperson said: “We have decided a contraflow would present a significant and unacceptable risk to the safety of road users and anyone required to work within it.”

Notably, Highways England said that the use of freestanding cones to separate lanes of traffic for a long stretch of a motorway would expose drivers to the risk of collision with oncoming traffic. In addition to this, it said that any incident within the contraflow would be difficult for emergency services to access and could cause severe and unpredictable delays.

Natalie Chapman, FTA head of policy South East England, said: “FTA is hugely frustrated by the rejection of the suggestion of a contraflow being introduced on the M20.  This would be preferable to the current situation when Operation Stack is implemented on the motorway, which has a devastating impact on local businesses and communities. We understand that Highways England have looked at the contraflow option and are concerned at the risk to safety in introducing this, but the fact remains that we still need a safe and workable solution.”

Alongside its safety concerns, Highways England also felt that because of the extent of the traffic management involved, a contraflow could not be easily switched on and off. I said that this would delay the full re-opening of the motorway, or the contraflow would have to remain in place 24/7.

“We are continuing our work with the task force to urgently review what other measures could be put in place to minimise disruption to local communities and allow safe, prompt and orderly movement of freight to the Port of Dover or Channel Tunnel,” said the spokesperson.

Operation Stack is used to park HGVs on the M20 and can affect 35 miles of the motorway.  The system is normally used during cross-Channel disruption, and has been implemented on 15 occasions in the past five weeks causing subsequent chaos in Kent not only for freight operators, but also for residents, tourist traffic and local businesses.

“Ideally we need a long term answer to Operation Stack, but short-term we need a solution – and we need it now,” said Chapman. “This is the busiest time of the year for tourist and freight traffic heading through the county of Kent, and we have to find some way of resolving this reoccurring problem.”

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