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The government is spending £60m on a moveable concrete barrier to ease traffic jams in case Brexit, bad weather or industrial action causes disruption at ports.
The barrier, allowing the creation of a temporary contraflow system at short notice, will be deployed on the M20 motorway in Kent “at times of cross-channel disruption”.
The Department for Transport (DfT) pointedly did not mention Brexit as a potential cause of that disruption.
But the barrier replaces the £35m Operation Brock project which caused immediate chaos on the M20 when it was deployed in October in case there was a no-deal Brexit, despite the EU agreeing to delay Britain’s departure to January.
Despite Boris Johnson striking a withdrawal agreement with the EU, there is still every chance of disruption at UK ports if the government gets to the end of this year’s transition period without striking a long-term trade deal.
The prime minister has also made clear he is willing to walk away from negotiations without a trade deal, which could result in much of the disruption that would have been caused in what was previously known as a no deal Brexit scenario.
Even if he succeeds in getting the “Canada-style” trade deal he wants, businesses have also been warned by the government to prepare for extra trade frictions that could potentially slow down the cross-border movement of goods and cause disruption at ports.
The DfT shared a video with a Dutch voiceover made by the Netherlands-based Vermuelan Groep to highlight how the concrete barrier might work.
But the government has not yet hired a supplier for the £60m project.
Transport secretary Grant Shapps said: “After listening to frustrated residents and businesses affected by Operations Brock and Stack, we’ve invested in a new solution to boost Kent’s resilience and keep its vital road network moving, even at times of disruption.
“This state-of-the-art technology can be deployed quickly, simply and safely, ensuring motorists across the county can get to where they need to be with minimum fuss, whatever the circumstances.”
Moveable barriers are already used in cities around the world, including Auckland, Sydney, San Francisco and Vancouver.
The technology will allow a specialist vehicle to quickly deploy the barrier on the M20 to ensure minimal disruption to motorists.
That compares to Operation Brock, which required a month of overnight closures to deploy a barrier required for the contraflow system.
The technology will be designed to ensure that the M20 is kept open at times of disruption, whilst also allowing the motorway to retain three lanes, a hard shoulder and 70mph speed limits in both directions during normal traffic conditions.