Watchdog calls on Highways England to put road users at the heart of tunnel design

With upcoming major road developments to be undertaken by Highways England likely to include tunnels, an independent watchdog has reiterated the importance of motorists’ say on future tunnel design and construction.

Transport Focus, in conjunction with Highways England, has published new research which highlights why drivers should be included in the design process with major projects like A303 at Stonehenge and the Lower Thames Crossing to incorporate tunnels within their routes.

The paper entitled Tunnel vision: road users’ experiences and expectations of tunnels, pinpoints where Highways England should concentrate its efforts to allay concerns and achieve improvements to the user experience.

Commuters who provided evidence to the watchdog identified concerns such as a lack of clarity about the rules when driving in a tunnel, for example, whether you can or cannot overtake, the speed limit and how much room should you leave behind the vehicle in front.

Others in the report believed uncertainty about what to do in an emergency, including whether there is a safe place to stop if you break down was something that needed to be shed light on.

When it came to what road users wanted to see in new tunnels, the issues raised included a clear information on the approach to and in the tunnel, good lighting and decent ventilation.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “The A303 at Stonehenge, the Lower Thames Crossing and a potential new route across the Pennines are all likely to include tunnels, so it’s vital that road users have their say on how they are designed and run. Road users expect driving in tunnels to be intuitive. Highways England must do more to remove confusion about speed limits, overtaking, and what to do if you break down. Highways England should also ensure that its existing tunnels are maintained to high standards, including road surfaces, lighting and cleanliness.”

Transport Focus is the independent transport watchdog representing the interests of all users of England’s motorways and major ‘A’ roads. Its main recommendations for Highways England moving forward include:

  • Ensures new tunnels are designed, built and run with road users in mind
  • Ensures the specific needs of disabled road users are met when using existing and new tunnels, including providing wheelchair-friendly emergency escape routes 
  • Provides timely, accurate information about estimated travel time to allow road users to plan rest stops – particularly important for lorry drivers
  • Ensures its tunnels are intuitive to use and that specific ‘rules’ about speed and overtaking are clear
  • Increases awareness of what to do if you break down or there is an emergency 
  • Learns from experiences in other countries about how to avoid monotony and boredom in longer tunnels.

Mike Wilson, executive director and chief highway engineer at Highways England, added: “We know that driving through tunnels is not a regular experience for many drivers and we want to ensure they are safe and feel safe. With new tunnels coming up in our future programme it’s important for us to better understand road users’ experiences and expectations. This report gives us that valuable insight, and, combined with the best international practice we already use, will help guide the design of these tunnels.” 

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