The answer to motorists’ misery? Build an extra lane!
Drivers blamed for delays
Lane changing at fault
50mph speed limit mooted
New white lines on the way
THE SOLUTION to Wokingham’s go slow motorway is to reduce the speed limit to 50mph at peak times – but it’s unworkable.
Instead, Wokingham Borough Council should focus on expanding the A329m, adding an extra lane in each direction at an estimated cost of £17million.
That’s the verdict of a council commissioned report into the traffic problems facing motorists since the A329m was turned into two single lane motorways, one for local traffic and the other for vehicles going onto the M4.
Since the scheme was launched a year ago, drivers have been complaining of delays, near misses and confused motorists.
Now their concerns have been vindicated in the report, created by Highways England consultants Mouchel in September, but it has only just been released under a Freedom of Information act request.
The report notes that “the A329m does experience peak time congestion with the southbound carriageway most affected” and that the new road layout has increased that. However, the scheme was introduced after research by Highways England between 2009 and 2011 indicated that it would “provide journey time savings and reduce accidents”.
The report officially records what readers have been saying ever since the revised layout opened last autumn: the signs and road markings “does not sufficiently inform drivers … causing late weaving manoeuvres and A329m traffic to brake suddenly”.
Drivers causing congestion
CCTV footage captured by the consultants caught 26 drivers changing lanes at the wrong time, with last-minute lane changing “more evident” on traffic heading from Wokingham towards Reading.
But the report goes on to blame “driver behaviour as the root cause of congestion, due to poor lane discipline (changing too late/early)”. It adds that the single lane sections do add to congestion but said that if road signs and markings were improved the road could cope with the volume of traffic without delays.
Further research, using Google Maps’ traffic live traffic feature, also highlighted how the M4 junction on the southbound side of the A329m was contributing to the traffic delays facing motorists, with drivers switching lanes being the root cause of the delays. The survey estimates that three times more users are travelling south than in the other direction.
The report outlines seven ways to make improvements for motorists, three are short-term and the rest longer term but it only recommends three of them.
The short-term plans involve adding solid lines to the traffic coming on to the A329m from the M4. The aim is to reduce the number of drivers moving into traffic already on the A329m and therefore reduce accidents.
And the third short-term plan would see signs improved, changing to make it clear that lane one is for M4 only and the other lane is A329m only. However, Wokingham Borough Council’s concerns over increasing congestion mean that these will be placed two-thirds of a mile before the junction, not the traditional mile.
But the big advice is to change the speed limit from the Coppid Beech roundabout to Winnersh Triangle to just 50mph. The experts recommend this as it would “regulate the flow of traffic and would allow for smoother merges or diverges, which would in turn reduce or eliminate the amount of sudden braking occurring on the A329(M) at the merges and diverges”. However, it also notes that a blanket speed limit would “impose an unrealistic speed limit which would rely on enforcement to achieve compliance”.
A suggestion for a variable speed limit is also suggested but dismissed as too expensive.
“The cost of which could be better spent in solving the root cause of congestion,” the report notes.
A third plan, installing new sign gantries across the road, has an estimated cost of £4million, but is considered to be an excessive cost.
The £17 million solution
The consultants final suggestion is the one that they recommend. Despite costing an estimated £13m to £17m, expanding the A329m by an extra lane, including a hard shoulder and widening the bridges, would “increase the volume of traffic [the road] could support”.
The report also suggests altering the central reservations as the M4 merges with the A329m to create the additional lanes.
Highways England will provide funding for short term solutions, but the cost of any long term improvements “thereafter will be discussed between Wokingham Borough Council and Highways England”.
Cllr Malcolm Richards, executive member for highways and transport at Wokingham Borough Council, said: “We welcome this report.
“As part of its current slip road maintenance at J10 on the M4, Highways England says it will also be improving the road lining and signs from the A329m onto the motorway.
“This is to help drivers merge better into the right lanes, therefore easing rush hour congestion.
“Following this, we and Highways England will continue to monitor traffic at this busy junction.”
But Cllr Lindsay Ferris, Liberal Democrat leader on the borough council, felt that the report’s suggestion of asking Wokingham Borough Council to pay the £17m cost of the extra lane was a “blooming cheek”.
He said: “They are prepared to pay for some white lines to realign the road which seems fine to me, but also indicate that the best solution would be to add an extra lane to the A329M at an estimated £17M and for WBC to pay for this. Blooming cheek if you ask me – just where are WBC going to get that sort of money?
“It was Highways England who proposed to have the lining on the motorway changed, with all the consequences that has happened since they were provided.”
‘Safety is our top priority’
A Highways England spokesperson said: “Safety is Highways England’s top priority and we continue to keep safety under review.
“Our upgrade to the junction has been successful at reducing congestion on some of the slip roads and we are working with Wokingham Borough Council to carefully consider the report.
“We are carrying out improvements over the coming months and will keep the junction under review.”