2006-01-19

Intolerance: Motorway Potholes A Death Trap

The number of potentially deadly hazards reported on Scotland's busiest road has rocketed in the past year, according to shocking figures obtained by 'Scotland On Sunday'. Ten serious hazards -- including potholes capable of causing a pile-up -- were logged on the M8 in the first six months of 2005, the same total as for the previous five years combined. The Glasgow-Edinburgh motorway is clogged with 75_000_cars/day and experts fear the deteriorating state of the road could increase the toll of 40 serious and fatal accidents/year. The M8's four lanes are regarded by hundreds of thousands of Scots as one of the biggest bugbears of their working lives. Many wonder why Scotland's two biggest economic centres are not linked by a six or even eight-lane highway. Meanwhile, there seem to be no realistic alternatives. Critics complain that rail journeys take longer than in the early 1980s and fares are now sky-high. There has been much talk of high-speed trains and alternative routes but little or no progress has been made. New reports obtained by 'Scotland on Sunday' under 'The Freedom of Information Act' suggest the M8 is literally cracking up under the strain. The Harthill to Whitburn section, constructed in 1970, is in a particularly poor state. The reports show that from 2005-01-01 to the end of 2005-06, road surveyors logged 10 official hazard notices on the M8. Only two were logged in 2004, four in 2003, one in 2002, two in 2001 and one in 2000. The dangers identified in the first half of this year include:
  • Two large potholes on the west-bound slip-road from Newbridge on to the M8;
  • Several large potholes, each capable of bursting tyres and throwing cars out of control, on the west-bound carriageway near junction four Harthill;
  • A hole near junction four on the west-bound carriageway, also near Harthill, right through the tar surface down to concrete, surrounded by loose stones;
  • A major hole on the eastbound carriageway near Whitburn; and
  • Exposed live electric cables discovered around signs, between Whitburn and junction six Chapelhall.
Among the reasons for the sudden increase in serious hazards is much heavier than expected volumes of traffic using the road. In addition, a report for 'The Scottish Executive's' roads department suggests some of the problems are due to poor repair work in previous years. Some construction workers did not allow long enough for materials to dry and used the wrong tools for jobs, ignoring the advice of managers from 'Amey Highways', the company which oversees the M8 for 'The Scottish Executive'. A 2004 investigation into recurring road damage on the M8 west of junction four near Whitburn stated: ' In order to facilitate the removal of the previous waterproofing layer the contractor used a planing machine. This was done despite being explicitly instructed not to do so by 'Amey Highways' staff. As a result, [steel] re-inforcing bars were exposed on the surface of the concrete deck.' An investigation in 2005-02 into problems between J4 and the Harthill Service Station showed a series of errors stretching back to the time the section of the road was built in 1970. The concrete base was uneven and someone had even made footprints in the surface while it was wet. A repair conducted in 1992 smoothed the surface, but added to the thickness of the concrete layer, meaning the tarmac surface on top was thinner and more likely to break up. To make matters worse, Scotland could have a gleaming new eight-lane M8 for around 400_million_GBP, around the cost of a new parliament building. Many argue this would keep the country moving while suitable public transport alternatives are worked out. In the mid-1990s, the then 'Scottish Office' studied the possibility of redesigning the M8 as a six-lane motorway. A wider road would ease congestion and lead to fewer potholes because each section of road would have less pressure on it. In 1999-11, Ms.Sarah Boyack, the then 'Scottish Executive transport minister', said a full six-lane highway would cost 238_million_GBP. 'The Institution of Civil Engineers Scotland' estimated that an eight-lane highway would cost about another 25 per cent to build. Taking that and inflation into account would raise the cost to about 390_million_GBP. However, already' under fire' from the 'green lobby' over the M74 extension into Glasgow, 'The Scottish Executive' would be unlikely to countenance such a project. Another option to link the two cities would be a superfast 200_mph 'bullet train' which would reduce the journey between Glasgow and Edinburgh to just 20 minutes. While this is receiving a growing level of support, most notably from 'The Liberal Democrat Party' in 'The Scottish Executive' coalition, the 4_000_million_GBP cost and huge planning marathon are likely to mean it remains little other than a dream. A more likely option to ease the congestion is under consideration by ministers and would cost 35_million_GBP to speed up the Glasgow Central to Edinburgh service, which currently takes 95 minutes and stops at 19 stations. A limited-stop service, running in parallel with the existing one, would introduce new trains running every hour, stopping at just four key stations and cutting 35 minutes off the journey. Another option could see the timetable of the main Edinburgh to Glasgow rail service changed so that more of the trains would be limited-stop services, thus making the connection quicker. But these options are some years off, meaning that for hundreds of thousands of Scots, the priority is to get the M8 working now. A study carried out earlier this year for 'The Scottish Executive' indicated that congestion on the M8 costs the nation's economy about 26_million_GBP/year. A typical Glasgow to Edinburgh trip on the M8 takes 63 minutes, compared with 50 minutes in the early 1980s. Comparable cities south of the Border are linked by more impressive highways. The M4 between Cardiff and Swansea is a six-lane motorway, as is the M62 Manchester to Leeds motorway and the M180 to Hull. Motoring organisations, businesses and opposition politicians last night reacted angrily to the revelation about the number of M8 defects. Director of the RAC Foundation Mr.Edmund King, said:
'It is very worrying to hear about the increase in hazards on the M8, especially as it is the most important strategic route in Scotland. 'These figures suggest to me that "The Scottish Executive" should be reviewing how it deals with its motorways. 'Drivers are entitled to better because the taxes motorists pay could fund a much better road network five or six times over.'
Assistant director of the CBI Scotland Mr.Alan Mitchel, said:
'It's extremely disconcerting because in the short term there is not much of an alternative to the M8 for the vast majority of the travellers who use it. 'Although there is talk of better rail connections and new services, the fact is that right now the motorway is the most important way to get between the two. 'The condition of the M8 matters because Edinburgh and Glasgow are the two engines of the Scottish economy and we've got to get them well-connected.'
The Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party's transport spokesman Mr.David Davidson added:
'The long and the short of it is that the M8 was never designed to take so much traffic. 'In the high-speed environment of the M8, potholes are more than a mere irritation, they are potentially seriously dangerous.'
A 'Scottish Executive' spokesman said:
'The M8, which was built about 40 years ago, is a vital economic and commercial link in central Scotland and we are carrying out a rolling programme of work to ensure that it lasts for at least another 40 years.'
DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION Glasgow-based joiner Mr.Angus Maclean is a regular commuter between Glasgow and Edinburgh. He said:
'The potholes are terrible. 'For some reason they mostly seem to be on the side of the road going into Glasgow and on the nearside. 'Because you are travelling at a motorway speed you cannot swerve to avoid them or go so slowly that it will not cause any damage.
'If you are very careful and know where they are you can avoid the worst, but some of the crunches you hear when you hit a hole make me very worried about what is being done to my car. 'Unfortunately I'm not a mechanic, so I don't know. But some of the impacts don't sound very good. And the stuff I carry is usually very heavy, so that adds to the strain caused by hitting the potholes. 'I'm fed up of the roadworks too. 'I don't think they're bad for putting up cones and then doing nothing, but it adds at least 20 minutes to a journey time of about an hour and 20 minutes, and you always have to build the possible delays into the schedule so that you can promise a client you'll do a job at a particular time. 'I would much rather be using all that time to get some work done and earn some money. 'The whole commute can add as much as four hours to the working day -- you feel you are throwing your life away.'
He added:
'The worst of it all is at night; it is not lit all the way, but because of the traffic you can never be sure whether you should dip your lights or have them on main beam.'
'Scotland on Sunday' art writer Mr.Iain Gale also frequently commutes on the M8, travelling regularly between his home in Mid Calder and Glasgow. He said:
'What I have a problem with is that there never seems to be a day when there are not roadworks somewhere on the M8 and you have to cut your speed right down. 'A journey to Glasgow which should take half an hour instead invariably takes a full hour. 'It is also too crowded. It always seems full of lorries, which must be giving the surface a pounding. 'And the speed limits seem to go up and down with little obvious logic. Travelling across to Glasgow, you drive at 70mph and get used to it, then the limit changes to 60, then you're up again to 70 for a very short time and then back to 60.'
He added:
'I don't agree with the image of the M8 as being boring; I quite like the sculptures which have been put up around it -- they give you something to contemplate while stuck in roadworks.'
'Why has Scotland's busiest route become the road to hell?', Scotland On Sunday, 2006-01-18, Su

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