Highways England warned Heathrow (spring 2018) about problems (including driver distraction) with the M25 being in a tunnel under the 3rd runway
Highways England has said that Heathrow’s possible 3rd runway over the M25 may lead to more accidents because of drivers being distracted by aircraft landing on a large bridge above them. The sight of huge passenger planes landing (or even taxiing) could cause motorists to take their eyes off the road. Highways England has told Heathrow to introduce measures to “reduce driver distraction” on the affected section of the M25, which is Britain’s busiest stretch of motorway – 6 lanes in each direction at that point. This could include lengthening the tunnel under the runway or simplifying the road layout. Heathrow was also told to consider the “landing zone of aircraft”, suggesting they should avoid arrivals directly over the road itself. The intention is to lower the M25 by 7 metres, while raising the runway slightly. Highways England is also concerned that there is a high risk of “fatigue damage” to the tunnel caused by aircraft as big as the A380 and Boeing 747, on the runway above it, so it could have a reduced lifespan. They also say the runway must be “raised enough to avoid the M25 having a gradient of more than 3% which would cause lorries to move slowly, leading to congestion. Heathrow was told this in spring 2018. The full details will be published for public consultation in June.
Heathrow’s new runway over the M25 may lead to more accidents because of drivers being distracted by aircraft landing, according to roads officials.
An assessment of the airport’s plan for a third runway warns that the sight of huge passenger planes landing could cause motorists to take their eyes off the road.
Highways England has told Heathrow to introduce measures to “reduce driver distraction” on the affected section of the M25, Britain’s busiest stretch of motorway.
This could include lengthening the tunnel under the runway or simplifying the road layout to cut down on the number of decisions that drivers have to make. Heathrow was also told to consider the “landing zone of aircraft”, suggesting they should avoid arrivals directly over the road itself.
The comments are made in a series of reports produced by the government-funded company into Heathrow’s plan, which were obtained by The Times under freedom of information laws.
The airport wants to build a new two-mile runway directly over the M25, which widens to six lanes in each direction past the airport, carrying 220,000 vehicles a day. It is proposing to shift the motorway 150 metres to the west and lower it by 7 metres in a tunnel while also raising the runway slightly. Construction could begin as early as 2021.
The full details will be published for public consultation in June.
Highways England said the project was “deliverable” but that there were “concerns about several aspects of the design”.
The assessments warn that:
• The construction programme — which is likely to take more than five years — risks having an “adverse effect on traffic”, with the airport told that it will be banned from closing any lanes of the M25 between 5am and 10pm to avoid huge traffic jams in the area;
• There is a high risk of “fatigue damage” to the tunnel caused by aircraft as big as the A380 and Boeing 747, meaning that it could have a reduced lifespan;
• The runway must be “raised sufficiently above ground level” to avoid having to put the M25 in a steep tunnel beneath, with any gradient of more than 3 per cent causing lorries to move slowly, leading to congestion.
Highways England raises particular concerns about the risk of drivers being distracted by the sight and noise of passenger planes landing in their direct vision as they enter the tunnel.
Runways and taxiways have been built over roads elsewhere in the world, such as Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale in the US and Paris’s Charles de Gaulle. However, the sheer amount of traffic on the M25 and the number of planes expected to use Heathrow’s proposed northwest runway poses a particular challenge.
In a document delivered to Heathrow last March, Highways England said: “Consideration must be given to measures to reduce driver distraction as a result of the runway crossing the M25 and associated aircraft movements both on taxiways and take-off and landings. Measures which reduce decision making for motorists in this location should be considered.”
Jeremy Bloom, Highways England network planning director, said that Heathrow’s plan was “deliverable given appropriate mitigation”.
“By identifying and resolving potential issues at this early stage in design, we can make sure the final proposals will keep journeys on the M25 safe and reliable, both now and in the future,” he said.
A Heathrow spokeswoman said: “The options we’ve proposed for crossing the motorway are tried-and-tested at other airports around the world. Highways England have reviewed our early design and confirmed that our plans are robust and deliverable.”
Highways England warns of driver distraction from Heathrow tunnel
By Chris Ames (Transport Network)
Highways England has called for changes to Heathrow’s plans to build its new runway over the M25, including addressing the risk that aircraft will distract drivers.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, The Times obtained a number of reports from the Government-owned company, assessing the airport’s plan to move the M25 carriageway around 150 metres to the West, lower it by approximately seven metres into a tunnel and raise the runway height by three to five metres so that it passes over the motorway.
In a statement, Highways England said it had been clear throughout that Heathrow’s proposals for the M25 and the wider strategic road network are ‘deliverable given appropriate mitigation’.In one document, Highways England advised the airport: ‘Consideration must be given to measures to reduce driver distraction as a result of the runway crossing the M25 and associated aircraft movements both on taxiways and take-off and landings. Measures which reduce decision making for motorists in this location should be considered.’
Its network planning director, Jeremy Bloom, said: ‘Our engagement with Heathrow Airport Limited has been productive and has focused on seeking to agree solutions that consider both the construction and long-term operation and maintenance of proposed changes to the strategic road network.
‘We’re also ensuring that the proposals can complement our own plans for improving this section of the M25.’
The Times reported that the assessments, which Highways England said it will publish shortly, warn that:
- The construction programme — which is likely to take more than five years — risks having an ‘adverse effect on traffic’, with the airport told that it will be banned from closing any lanes of the M25 between 5am and 10pm to avoid huge traffic jams in the area;
- There is a high risk of ‘fatigue damage’ to the tunnel caused by aircraft as big as the A380 and Boeing 747, meaning that it could have a reduced lifespan;
- The runway must be ‘raised sufficiently above ground level’ to avoid having to put the M25 in a steep tunnel beneath, with any gradient of more than 3%, causing lorries to move slowly and leading to congestion.
The CEO of Highways England is Jim O’Sullivan, (since June 2015). He worked in the past for many companies, including British Airways and Heathrow Airport Holdings.
Highways England Chairman is Colin Matthews, who was CEO of Heathrow before John Holland-Kaye took over.
Holland-Kaye says Heathrow will only pay just over £1 billion for ALL road improvements needed
John Holland-Kaye told the Environmental Audit Committee hearing on 5th Nov 2015 that Heathrow would only pay just over £1 billion for ALL transport improvements.
He said: “We have allowed just over £1 billion for further surface access investment. Some of that is going into motorways, the M25, and some of it is going into improving local roads. Some of it is going into local rail.”
John Holland-Kaye: We will comply with the policy that has always been the case where we will make a contribution to surface access that is proportionate to the airport’s contribution to the need for that surface access. That is what we have always done in the past.
Q108 Caroline Ansell: What might that be, in terms of a proportion? What is the model?
John Holland-Kaye: There is more work to be done on that. We have planned for a contribution of over £1 billion in terms of surface access. We have a good record of doing this. We contributed to the Piccadilly Line extension. We have contributed to Crossrail. We built the Heathrow Express line. So we have made a very significant contribution in the past to surface access into Heathrow in proportion to its use. That is in line with Government policy.
Heathrow consultation: their suggestions of how to deal with M25, tunnel, bridge, altered junctions etc
As part of its consultation on its proposed 3rd runway, Heathrow has a section on what it hopes is done with the M25, so the runway can go over it. This is a very expensive and complicate operation, and Heathrow is keen to cut the cost. The proposed runway will cross the M25 between Junctions 14 and 15 (J14 and J15) and will affect the operation of J14 and J14a, but not J15. Other than moving the motorway a long way west, the options are tunnelling or bridging. Heathrow says: “Our current thinking is to re-position the M25 carriageway approximately 150 metres to the west, lower it by approximately 7 metres into a tunnel and raise the runway height by 3 to 5 metres so that it passes over the M25 between J14a and J15. The motorway will then re-join its current route. …We believe this approach is the most deliverable as it would allow construction to proceed while the existing M25 motorway remains in operation. This minimises impacts to road users and has the least overall impacts on communities during construction and long-term operation.” And they say the 3rd runway will mean more traffic will want to pass through junctions 14 and 14A, so they will need to be expanded. Illustrations show some different options.
IAG warns the “costs and complexity” of bridging M25 could be major problem for Heathrow runway plans
British Airways’ owner International Airlines Group (IAG) estimates bridging the M25, close to the M4 junction, would cost £2 billion-£3 billion. The Airports Commission suggested the cost could be higher, with £5 billion for local road upgrades, including the tunnel. The Commission said Heathrow should pay for these, as part of the cost of building its runway. The cost and complexity of somehow putting the runway over the busiest, widest section of motorway in the UK are considerable. IAG, as by far the largest airline at Heathrow, does not want to be charged for this work, which would mean putting up the price of its air tickets. IAG says there is no detailed risk and cost analysis of the airport’s plans on what to do with the M25, though a bridge is cheaper than a tunnel. Willie Walsh said: “Airlines were never consulted on the runway length and they can operate perfectly well from a slightly shorter runway that doesn’t cross the M25.” He wants Heathrow to build a shorter runway of 3,200m rather than 3,500m that does not require going over the M25. But that would mean the motorway directly at the end of the runway, in the worse danger zone. IAG says: “We will not pay for a runway that threatens both costs and delays spiralling out of control and where critical elements of the project could be undeliverable.”
Heathrow now considering (not tunnel or bridge) but cheaper series of “viaducts” over M25
Heathrow has a huge problem in how to get a runway over the busiest, widest stretch of the M25. The original plan was a full 14-lane tunnel about 2,000 feet long. Then there were plans for a sort of bridge over the road. Even those would be prohibitively expensive (Heathrow says it would only pay £1.1 billion on roads etc). Now there are plans, by Phil Wilbraham, who oversaw the construction of Heathrow’s terminals 2 and 5, to build a cheaper system. It would be 3 parallel bridges across the M25, with narrow ones for taxiways at the side, and a wider one for the runway in the centre. The plan is for a 2 mile long runway, to take even the largest planes. The main airline at Heathrow, British Airways, suggested a runway about 1,000 feet shorter, that would not need to cross the motorway, but that might not be able to take A380s, and would mess up the flight patterns. The earlier “bridge” concept would have meant the runway would be on a slight slope, to get over the motorway. The cost of moving the thousands of tonnes of earth would be immense, and it is thought Heathrow has had to reconsider. The airlines do not want to have to pay for the building costs of roads etc associated with a 3rd runway. The government does not want to force Heathrow to pay, as this would mean increasing the cost of flying – and reduce demand at Heathrow.