Sometimes I think March should be called the ‘don’t bother to travel’ month.
The weather can catch us out, of course, with an unexpected dump of snow, but that usually only disrupts for a few hours. It’s the sudden sprouting of roadworks all over the place that cause cumulative irritation and the desire to see entire cone armies consigned to the nearest landfill.
Quite why councils discover every year that they have underspent their roads budget and now need to blow it all at once or lose it, is a mystery. And the ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ imposed on the councils, at the one time in the year the road maintenance contractors have them over a barrel, is equally a mystery.
But even when the cones are gone, mysteries about how our road system ticks – or doesn’t – abound throughout the year.
Take our dearly loved M8, for example. Welcome though the final link between Newhouse and Baillieston is, won’t it simply push the problem elsewhere? On a road which is as congested as the M8, one would hope that proactive management of the inevitable knock-on effect has been well planned. But the omens don’t seem to be too good.
A straw poll of regular M8 commuters would probably reveal an expectation that the two-lane section westbound from Livingston will increasingly become the next major bottleneck.
Over recent years, as the ribbon development feeding onto the motorway has expanded, each new distribution warehouse has added several hundred delivery journeys per day to the mix. The concept of the M8 as a commuter corridor has become something of a joke. Even at 6.30am, it is rarely possible to avoid being caught behind lorries playing leapfrog with a speed differential of barely a few miles an hour.
As most of us have experienced all too often, such overtaking can require a significant amount of time and distance to achieve. The result? A seriously backed-up queue of traffic and soaring frustration levels that are bound to increase the risk of an accident.
The mystery in this case is why some sort of intelligent traffic management has not long since been in place in the worst bottlenecks of the two-lane sections. So here’s an off-the-wall suggestion: ban HGVs/LGVs from the outer lane on the uphill drag from Harthill Services through to the start of the new three lane section at Junction 6 between, say, 7.00am and 9.00am.
Relocating two or three of the Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras once the Newhouse to Baillieston section is completed could alert police patrols to vehicles breaching such a ban, or trigger an automatic ticket.
Road space is now such a scarce and valuable resource that continuing to delegate the management of its use to the survival of the biggest is clearly a flawed concept.
But, regrettably, it’s a concept that there seems little prospect of being abandoned until and unless there is a sea-change in road management thinking.
Iain A. Masterton is a retired consultant software engineer. He lives in West Lothian.