Lower Thames Crossing safety concerns raised

The Lower Thames Crossing (LTC) road scheme could lead to 2,147 additional accidents over 60 years.

According to Highways England’s Appraisal Summary Table – obtained via a freedom of information request submitted by the Thames Crossing Action Group (TCAG) – the forecast of additional accidents includes 26 fatalities, 220 serious injuries and 3,122 slight injuries.

The Department for Transport (DfT)’s COBALT tool has been used by Highways England to appraise accidents and shows a net increase in the number and value of accidents across the road network due to the project.

There are five locations that are predicted to have an increase in casualties as a result of an increase in traffic flows.

However there is one location which is predicted to have a decrease in casualties as a result of a decrease in traffic flows.

These locations have not been specified.

The TCAG highlighted that in November 2020, when discussing the invitation for tenders for the project’s tunnels contract, LTC tunnels and systems director Keith Bowers emphasised the importance of safety.

“We have committed to targets that mean by 2040 nobody will be killed or seriously injured on our roads and motorways, and we need our contractors’ design and delivery to meet that target for our road users and workers,” he said.


The TCAG said this is “just another example of Highways England contradicting their own info”.

The group added: “How can they say they have committed to targets that mean by 2040 nobody will be killed or seriously injured on their roads or motorways, yet at the same time be forecasting 2,147 additional accidents over 60 years, including 26 fatalities, 220 serious injuries and 3,122 slight injuries for the proposed LTC alone?”

Highways England was rebranded last week as National Highways. National Highways said its forecasts show that there would be a reduction in the accident rate (accidents per vehicle kilometre travelled) across the LTC area over the 60-year appraisal period.

Overall, the forecast number of accidents over the 60-year appraisal period from 2027 increases by over 2% as the LTC will facilitate more travel within the area appraised.

The organisation said that COBALT, and therefore the appraisal techniques, are not able to take into account the actions being taken by National Highways to achieve its target of having no one killed or injured on the strategic road network by 2040.

These actions include the use of new and emerging technology, standards and best practice to design safer roads; support for the introduction of safer vehicles; and improving driver behaviour.

According to National Highways, the table shared following the FOI was a draft prepared for the original DCO application in October 2020. A revised summary will be included in the new application.

LTC development director Mark Bottomley said: “Safety is our highest priority, and National Highways has an ambitious target that no one should be killed or injured on the strategic road network by 2040.

“The Lower Thames Crossing is the most ambitious road scheme in a generation, and by putting safety at the heart of the design we aim to make this one of the safest roads ever built in the UK. However more importantly, by providing the desperately-needed relief to the Dartford Crossing and nearby road network we will make people’s journeys safer, and reduce the accident rate per kilometre across the area.”

The figures come after it was revealed that changes to the LTC planning application have added £362.5M to the final estimated cost of the project.

Changes have been made in regard to traffic management, air quality control, noise and vibration, as well as the impact of the new crossing on the environment and landscape.

They have been added to the project’s development consent order application after National Highways was forced to pull its original plans following feedback from the Planning Inspectorate in November last year.

Meanwhile, the TCAG said it also has “serious concerns” over the ‘smart’ aspects of the road scheme, which include the lack of hard shoulder, use of technology and emergency refuge areas.

National Highways has said the LTC is not currently designed as a motorway, but as an all purpose trunk road such as an A road.

The organisation continued: "It will however be designed to smart motorway standards including the provision of emergency refuge areas a minimum of 1.6km apart and lane detection technology. The design also provides stopped vehicle detection systems, incident detection and automatic signals, in line with government regulations.

"The route will not have a hard shoulder along the majority of the route. Should a vehicle need to stop before it reaches a refuge area, technology used along the route will detect the stopped vehicle and change the over-lane signals to indicate that the affected lane is closed to traffic."

The safety of smart motorways – where the hard shoulder has been replaced by a live traffic lane – has been repeatedly called into question.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps has defended the roads but in March he conceded that they should be safer. As such, he said that the rollout of stopped vehicle detection technology would be sped up across all of the 800km smart motorway network.

In April, the road operator was referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for manslaughter in connection with the death of a woman on the M1 2018, while another inquest concluded that the lack of a hard shoulder contributed to the deaths of two men near junction 34 of the M1 in June 2019.

The DfT has also asked the Office of Rail & Road to carry out an independent review of National Highways' data.


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