Politicians are often implored to use ‘common sense’ in their decision making.
As Roads Minister I was asked to defy what seemed to be everyday logic in relation to the M42, junctions 3a to 7, running past Solihull.
I was told that by slowing traffic down you made it go quicker and by running vehicles on the hard shoulder you could improve safety.
With my common sense set aside, I sanctioned the project. This part of the M42 now has variable speed limits, occasional use of the hard shoulder at busy times, Emergency Refuge areas and Variable Message Signs.
By reducing the speed limit at potentially congested times the traffic stays at a more constant speed, makes better progress and is safer. The refuge areas allow broken down vehicles to move off the highway completely, reducing the risk of being hit from behind. The variable message signs give up-to-date information about speed limits and possible hazards ahead.
The results have been very encouraging even though traffic is increasing on the M42 year on year. Personal injury crashes have been cut by two thirds and there are fewer times when this extremely busy road is at a standstill. Also noise has been cut slightly and pollution from vehicles reduced too.
The M42 is very important to the local economy as it serves the airport and the NEC as well as local businesses. In 2008, 134,000 vehicles passed along this road each day. The present Government is committed to building new roads where necessary but most importantly making better use of the roads we already have. This scheme has certainly done that.
So I continue to employ common sense to most decisions but sometimes you have to take a considered risk when hard evidence points you in the other direction.
(David was Roads Minister from 2001-05 and now lives in Olton)