Last week, I had a five-day break in the picturesque area of Calvados in France, which is close to the D-Day landing beaches and famous for its production of apple brandy.
As on previous occasions when I have visited the area, I decided to drive the 300-miles from Preston to the channel tunnel at off peak times, using the M6, M1, M25 and M20 motorways.
In theory, it should take less than five hours to reach the tunnel, but the current state of our motorway system makes that, for much of the time, totally unrealistic.
Starting my journey before midday, it took me over two hours to reach the Thelwall viaduct, a distance of just 32 miles.
Frustratingly, there was no accident or roadworks that accounted for this delay, the traffic flow simply eased after the junction with the M56. It then took another three hours to reach the M1, which is well under half of the journey to the tunnel.
Roadworks, variable speed limits and the volume of traffic then accounted for further delays after that.
However, the M25 had its own problems, with a four-mile queue to pay for the tolls at the Dartford tunnel and an inordinate number of drivers lane hogging in the second, third and fourth lanes, whilst driving at 10 mph under the speed limit. Why there is such a prevalence of drivers who do that on the M25, I have no idea! It took over nine-hours to reach the tunnel at an average speed of just 31 mph.
Whilst delays of this kind are frustrating for the occasional traveller like myself, I dread to think of the additional cost it causes for UK businesses which rely on the motorway network.
More can and should be done to reduce the congestion and gridlock on the motorways. Accidents, even serious ones, can be properly investigated and cleared much more quickly than they currently are.
The number of ongoing roadworks on the entire network should be reduced. The use of variable and reduced speed limits needs to be reviewed and used a lot less in some areas of the country. If toll operators can’t cope with the high volume of traffic then the gates should be opened, and more drivers need prosecuting for lane hogging and for slowing the flow of traffic.
I accept these issues wouldn’t entirely eradicate the motorway gridlock but they would ease and improve the current situation.