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Higher motorway roadwork speed limits to be trialled

Highways England says speed limits could rise to 60mph when “less activity” is taking place on motorway roadworks

Motorway roadwork speed limits will be increased to 60mph as bosses assess if variable limits can be safely operated.

Highways England, which runs the UK’s motorway network, says it is “working hard to reduce drivers’ frustration” with roadworks, and will be conducting a trial to see if higher limits can be introduced during periods when less work is being carried out.

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Variable speed limits under review

Current motorway roadworks where lanes are narrowed bring with them a speed limit of 50mph or lower, but Highways England is responding to driver feedback to see if limits can be raised to 55mph or 60mph, depending on how much activity is taking place.

Taking weekends as an example, Highways England says “the speed could be increased to 60mph on a Sunday if there is less activity taking place, and then brought back down to 50mph when road workers are working within a few feet of passing traffic.”

Weekday roadwork limits could also rise, with drivers commuting on one carriageway at 50mph, but returning home in the opposite direction at 60mph if “road workers are further away.”

Highways England says narrow lanes are typically installed during motorway upgrades in order to provide a “safe working environment for the workforce”, while also keeping as many lanes open as possible.

Previous figures show road workers face up to 300 abusive and dangerous incidents a week. And while the current thinking is that a 50mph limit is necessary to operate narrow lanes as safely as possible, the new trial of dynamic limits “will test whether it is safe to operate at 60mph in certain circumstances.” Specific aspects of the road environment - such as the width of the lanes and the nature of safety barriers - will be taken into account, although locations for the trials have yet been determined.

Jim O’Sullivan, Highways England’s chief executive, says while “people understand roadworks are necessary”, they are also “frustrated” by them. “That is why over the next 12 months we will test changes to the design and operation of roadworks,” he added.

These new trials will follow earlier pilot projects that saw motorway roadwork limits permanently raised to 55 and 60mph.

Read: most drivers believe motorway traffic is getting worse

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