All lane running
In 'all lane running', the latest version of smart motorways, the hard shoulder is used as a live lane of traffic. Previous schemes have only used the hard shoulder at peak times or to deal with congestion.
The Committee did not agree with Government that this is an incremental change and a logical extension of previous schemes. It concluded that the permanent loss of the hard shoulder in all lane running schemes was a radical change and an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements.
Chair of the Transport Select Committee, Louise Ellman MP, commented:
"The permanent removal of the hard shoulder is a dramatic change. All kinds of drivers, including the emergency services, are genuinely concerned about the risk this presents.
It is undeniable that we need to find ways of dealing with traffic growth on the strategic network. But All Lane Running does not appear to us to be the safe, incremental change the Department wants us to think it is. While 'smart motorways' have existed for years, this is fundamentally different. Government needs to demonstrate that All Lane Running schemes do not make the road any less safe that the traditional motorway with a hard shoulder.
The Government has a model which has worked. The scheme on the M42 has a track record of safety and performance but subsequent versions have gradually lowered the standard specification. The most recent incarnations of All Lane Running have less provision for safety measures than original pilot schemes.
The Committee heard significant concerns about the scarcity, size and misuse of emergency refuge areas. We also heard about worryingly high levels of non-compliance with Red X signals. Levels of public awareness and confidence about using these motorway schemes are unacceptably low.
Government needs to demonstrate considerable improvement in this area, including more emergency refuge areas, driver education and enforcement, before the Committee will endorse the extension of a scheme which risks putting motorists in harm's way."
In 2015, the Department for Transport forecasted that traffic on the strategic road network would increase by up to 60% by 2040. The Government sees smart motorways as a way of addressing this growth without incurring the costs of traditional motorway widening.
Plans are in place to permanently convert the hard shoulder into a running lane on around 300 miles of motorway. Highways England has a programme of 30 all lane running schemes to the value of circa £6 billion over the next nine years. The Department may consider the matter settled but the Committee believes that argument has not been won.