Senior traffic officer admits A14 diversions plans are 'in chaos'
Night-time work on £1.5billion road construction scheme is leading to rat-running
People living near the A14 look set for no respite as highways chiefs grapple with the problems caused by rat-running drivers.
As work on the £1.5billion road construction scheme continues, heavy lorries and other vehicles are taking short cuts to avoid official diversions set up at night by Highways England.
In a bid to deter them, a senior traffic officer was stationed in a marked car by one of the A14’s junctions – but he simply ended up being lambasted by angry drivers.
The officer, who parked near junction 27 at Fenstanton on Saturday night, described the situation as ‘chaos’, and told colleagues a complete road management rethink is needed if the agency is to rescue its dwindling reputation with the public.
The officer was deployed in response to a plea from Swavesey Parish Council for officers in marked vehicles – known as traffic officer vehicles (TOVs) – to be situated near junctions in a bid to stop HGVs ignoring official diversionary routes.
But in a series of internal emails to other members of the Highways England A14 team, he pointed out that poor signage was not helping to ease the frustrations of motorists.
He wrote: “Tonight (July 28) I positioned myself in a TOV at J27 and I can tell you that it was nothing short of chaos. All local roads were being used by aggrieved members of the public to gain access back down onto the M11. Many members of the public complained of poor diversion route signs and contradicting diversion route symbols.
“Having travelled around the area in question tonight, I can confirm that all types of vehicles are travelling through Swavesey, Hilton and Fen Drayton and beyond, I guess following their sat-nav devices.
“Siting a TOV at J27 made no difference at all, it just ended up being a stopping point for people to complain and direct their frustrations at me. I cannot understand why the closures are being put in at J27 and J28, this is the cause of the problem and I am not at all surprised complaints are coming in from the aforementioned villages.
“Given the many issues this caused at J27 and J28 tonight, a rethink is required. Twitter is alive with complaints and negative comments about this scheme. For the sake of our reputation I suggest we do something different rather urgently.”
Replying to his concerns, a stakeholder director for the A14 integrated delivery team said ‘disbelieving’ drivers were a major part of the problems.
She said: “As you note the biggest problem is the use of sat-navs, and we’re trying everything we possibly can to do the right thing not to annoy drivers, but so far to no avail.
“Driver behaviour is a high proportion of our problem; disbelieving any signage we have up and continuing until the hard closure point is reached. A review of the diversion signage is planned for this week.”
Earlier this year the Cambridge Independent highlighted residents’ fury about the rat-running chaos caused by the construction project, which still has more than two years to go. The new A14 is due to open at the end of 2020.
In July Cambridge MP Daniel Ziechner secured a debate in the House of Commons in which he asked for assurances from the government that measures would be taken to help alleviate the problems of HGV rat-runs through the city in the wake of the A14 closures.
Doug Whyte, who lives in King’s Hedges Road, Cambridge, said: “The Cambridge Independent raised the issue a few months ago, and a resident in my road has gathered a petition with 500 names on it demanding action. In one night, she counted 106 HGVs passing her house, rather than using the official routes.
“The lorry drivers aren’t to blame. It’s Highways England that’s at fault. They don’t seem to know what to do, but they also don’t seem to have to answer to anybody.”
A Highways England spokesman said: “Upgrading the A14 is a massive job, and we are working hard to keep disruption to a minimum during construction. It includes a brand new bypass for Huntingdon, as well as widening existing sections of the A14 and the A1.
“We are working very hard to help ensure that drivers use the signed diversion route, working in partnership with police, local authorities and haulage groups. We have added additional signs further away from Cambridgeshire to alert HGVs of any road closures, we share our roadworks plans with hauliers, and we have deployed signs directing drivers away from local roads and onto the agreed diversion routes.
“We have already been using traffic marshals to help direct traffic toward the official diversion routes, and have now enlisted traffic officers too to help steer drivers away from these local roads and on to the official diversion route instead.
“We understand that it is not easy living near a major construction site and we appreciate the patience of all our neighbours. We hope these additional steps we are taking will deliver an improvement.”