Ipswich: New road scheme will help VIPs beat traffic chaos

A RADICAL new traffic scheme that could be a pioneering first will be tested on the grid-locked streets of Suffolk’s county town of Ipswich, The Evening Star can reveal today.

In a move some will see as controversial, the system will enable VIPs to avoid traffic congestion by freeing up lanes to allow them to sweep through and not waste time stuck in queues.

A new electronic traffic light system will be introduced with a flashing VIP signs that come on when cars fitted with special sensora approach.

Emergency vehicles will also be fitted with electronic sensors that will trigger the signs.

Partly, it is comparable to the fast-track employed in Soviet-era Moscow, when members of the Politburo were whisked from meeting to meeting in chauffeur-driven Zil limousines.

Roads where there is more than one carriageway in a particular direction – on Civic Drive, Bond Street, Waterworks Street, Star Lane, and the Key Street, College Street, Salthouse Street road network, are likely targets of the new scheme.

The new signs will be at all junctions controlled by traffic lights and there will also be signs at 50-metre intervals along the road so drivers can easily see them.

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Road users will have 10 seconds to clear the lane when the VIP signs come on – then automatic cameras built into them will take pictures of vehicles still blocking the lane.

Officials are today presenting an amendment to the road traffic laws which will allow drivers found in these lanes to be penalised.

In the case of a first office there will be a fixed penalty �60 fine and two penalty points, �100 and four penalty points for the second offence and a �200 fine and six penalty points for the third offence in a year.

That will lead to drivers being banned for six months under the “totting up” process. “Three strikes and you’re out” is how this was described by the Department for Transport.

They assured drivers that unlike in the USSR, there were no proposals to send people straying into the VIP lane into internal exile although there have been suggestions that rogue drivers could be ordered to take a “respectful driving” course at a new centre being set up on the Hebridean island of Harris.

Letters telling those who are going to get VIP road lane priority will be sent in the next few days – followed by news of the fitting of the sensors to their vehicles.

Sally O’Fload, from the Department for Transport said: “These are busy people, and for them time is money. It is quite reasonable that they should not have to wait in traffic congestion.

“It is not an efficient use of money to have them stuck in traffic where they are unable to work for the nation’s wellbeing.”

Full public debate on the plan is not envisaged but a spokesman said:” Senior officials are very busy people facing all kinds of pressures who have to get to meetings as a matter of urgency.”

In the longer term – if the five-year experiment is successful – sensors will be fitted to all government vehicles and VIP signs will be installed in all major cities, starting in London.

Ultimately the sensors will be available as an optional extra in luxury cars – vehicles costing more than �50,000 new – but they will be assigned to particular drivers.

Only operating when a “smart card” is inserted into the car’s dashboard there will be extra costs when the car is sold second-hand.

Ms O’Fload said: “This is not a technology that we want the general public to access. It is to allow important people to reach their destinations quickly.

“We don’t want chief council officers being held up by Darren trying to get to work at the local burger joint!”

One reason Ipswich was chosen as the test-bed for the system as it has been identified in a top-secret report as a “potential bottleneck” town.

The report acknowledges that Ipswich has not suffered as badly as other towns and cities from congestion so far – but it set to grind to a halt as the population increases.

Originally unwilling to discuss the scheme Ms O’Flaod eventually accepted Ipswich’s particular traffic issues has drawn the planners here.

She said: “But for those senior figures who need to get to work in a hurry we must do what we can, so this system is being trialled.”

Lettering on the signs will be will be introduced at the same time as work starts on the “Ipswich Fit for the 21st Century” traffic scheme which is also due to see work start next year.

All the VIP signs will be installed and fully operational by the end of the 2011/12 financial year, and are due to become operational on the first day of the next financial year, April 1, 2012.

Lists detailing VIPs are currently being drawn up – some sports stars may be on it but, we understand, media bosses have already been eliminated.

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