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Cash row goes on over roundabout safety

PUBLISHED: 17:30 12 September 2001 | UPDATED: 10:31 03 March 2010

MORE safety work is likely to be carried out at the deathtrap dock spur roundabout in the next year while funds are being secured for long-term works.

MORE safety work is likely to be carried out at the deathtrap dock spur roundabout in the next year while funds are being secured for long-term works.

The harsh realities of getting the necessary cash from government were spelled out by officials who pledged to do all they can to get the money needed.

Highways chiefs do not yet know when they will be able to construct their "end goal scheme" and say they will continue to spend thousands of pounds making improvements in the meantime to try to prevent any more lorries flipping over.

Their ultimate aim is to stop all lorry accidents at the A14 junction on the edge of Felixstowe – but must be careful that any safety project does not end up causing different types of accident.

One idea, an earth mound to prevent views to the right, already looks set to be abandoned in case it leads to side-impact crashes with cars coming round the junction or rear-shunts as lorries screech to a halt.

Ade Coker, project manager for the Highways Agency, said the chosen scheme would be judged on a series of criteria and placed in a national league table to see if it warrants enough points to receive funding, but would be up against the worst accident blackspots in Britain.

"We recognise there is a problem at this roundabout and whatever we do our ultimate aim is to prevent accidents, period," said Mr Coker.

"But the Highways Agency will spent the money where the greatest benefit is and we have to justify how that money is spent.

"That is why we will take an incremental approach. We have already spent £25,000 on a scheme and when we have the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) report we will identify other work which could be done over the next year or so and then monitor that.

"We are not here to react to public pressure. We are here to do a job professionally.

"I know there is local pressure to go for segregation of traffic and if that is seen as the best option that will be our end goal but I cannot sit here today and say that will happen because it has to be stacked up against other schemes which are going to occur on the trunk road network.

"We will try to get the ultimate goal as soon as possible. We are looking at low-cost schemes in the interim and we are not saying we cannot do anything until we get the money.

"We want to address this in the best way possible. This is a very difficult roundabout to deal with – I cannot stress that enough – and we are not going to find a solution overnight, and that is why we are being so thorough with our research."

World-renowned researchers TRL have spent two months at the junction doing research and are preparing a report for the agency.

With the help of police accident reports, TRL has found the crashes share several "common trends" and the junction has several similarities with a previously problem roundabout on the A1 where there were similar lorry overturning accidents and a fatality.

The similarities include Felixstowe-bound drivers being faced with a long, fast and straight approach road to the roundabout and not enough of a turn onto it – both factors which do not encourage truckers to slow down.

The amount of traffic coming from the right – from the port towards Felixstowe – is very little and drivers do not expect to stop, and they also have a good view to the right so they can see nothing is coming.

Add to this the fact that most are already going too fast for the situation, and that their loads in sealed containers could, unbeknown to them, be unstable and you have . . . a cocktail for disaster.

In the past six years, 14 lorries have flipped over, causing chaos – one landed on the BMW driven by Martin O'Sullivan, of Parham, and crushed him to death.

"I would say that 25mph is too fast for a lorry to be entering that roundabout, especially if you have a container possibly up to its top weight," said John Peirce , traffic consultancy manager for TRL.

"The entry speed is expected to be the lowest but the design of this roundabout means that people then go faster and arrive too fast at the point of the turn."

But not all lorries which overturned had been heading right around the junction for the port, and a number had flipped on the Ipswich-bound left turn, the first turn since leaving the port and possibly down to unstable or insecure loads.

Mr Peirce said the loading of lorries was a "very important factor", but one which would have to be dealt with by changes in the law as the lorries could not be opened by the port authorities or drivers to be checked. TRL staff had ridden around the junction with truckers.

"The driver has a sealed container and cannot say whether the load is secure inside or not. It is only when they are out on the road that they will feel how that load is behaving, and each will be different each time," he said.

Sometimes poor loading will combine with the entry speed and roundabout design to cause an accident. Other times it will be one factor alone which is responsible. In one incident, a lorry which flipped was only doing 15mph – proved by its tachograph – when its unstable load of scrap metal ingots moved too far and caused it to fall.

But the problem facing the Highways Agency – which has four long-term options costed between £120,000 and £385,000 – is justifying the spending of large amounts of money on what is still perceived as a safe roundabout.

With two million vehicle movements a year, 23 per cent of them lorries, and an average of only two HGV accidents a year, it is not the most dangerous.

The scheme to segregate traffic going to the town and the port is the only option which will ensure that if a lorry does flip over, it will not land on a car.

Present drawings show that a concrete barrier will force vehicles heading for the town and port into two lanes as they approach the junction and then keep them apart as they go round it, but it is felt that the same solution could be achieved with comparably inexpensive rumble strips or hatching.

The Highways Agency has already carried out £25,000 of work at the junction since the fatal crash, including putting in risk of overturning signs, chevrons, coloured road surfacing and strengthening rumble strips.

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