Comedian Jimmy Carr famously quipped that he was “just going to put the car in the car park – otherwise known as the M25.”
Sadly it seems for many commuters this has felt like a near-reality and a situation that’s no laughing matter thanks to year-long upgrade works on the South East section of this much-maligned motorway.
While it is hard to argue with the necessity for such schemes (which in this instance is being undertaken to replace the old metal barriers and drainage improvement), I can’t help thinking I’m not alone in believing the government should have instructed the Highways Agency to employ greater resources to it to ensure its delivery more swiftly.
Don’t get me wrong, I am sure the teams presently working on the project are doing an excellent job. But on the many occasions I’ve driven painfully slowly round this section of the M25, there never seem to be any more than a couple of dozen people at best working on this mammoth 10 mile section of road.
The cost of potential lost working time in delays must surely run into millions for business travellers, whose journeys are now routinely seriously affected at peak morning and evening times.
According to latest figures from the Highways Agency, some 200,000 people a day use the M25, which should underline how vital it is that any works are dealt with as rapidly as possible.
As someone working across the region, trying to venture out of Kent at any time in the morning beyond 530-6 am on the already overloaded M26 approach road to the M25, is something of a daunting prospect.
Sadly, the driving woes do not end there, with yet more delays experienced in Sussex on the A23 approach to the M23 (which is being widened with a scheme which admittedly will prove to significantly improve traffic flow) that combine to make driving on our clearly-overcrowded roads something of a joyless experience.
Though we are being steered towards thinking in more environmental terms through using alternative means of public transport, for many business people, driving from rural areas in particular remains the best and only option for getting to their place of work.
With this in mind, I for one can’t imagine this scenario playing out somewhere like Germany, in which the key motorway network that surrounds the capital has become seemingly endlessly bogged down in what appears a perpetual round of maintenance.
So where does the solution lie to M25 congestion? Well, according to the Highways Agency, we’re soon to be travelling on what it describes as “a smart motorway” which opens up the hard shoulder for use during peak hours.
That sounds a fair prospect and has been tested in some areas of the country with a degree of success, but both road safety groups and emergency services have already raised a major issue with extended use of hard shoulders, which clearly blocks access in emergency situations.
It’s clear this is an issue that isn’t going to get any easier to resolve in the near future as more cars pile onto our key roads every year. Perhaps Richard Branson has the right idea with the launch of Virgin Galactic space flight this year – earth’s upper atmosphere is pretty much the only place that doesn’t appear too crowded these days.