I was one of the lucky ones: stuck for an hour in the traffic chaos around Maidstone on Saturday caused by the closure of the M20 London bound between junctions eight and seven; the unlucky ones reported being caught in the snarl up for four hours.
According to the Highways Agency the decision to close the entire carriageway to allow for essential repairs was unavoidable. So it might have been, but were the diversion plans anything like adequate to cope with the inevitable congestion? Trying to squeeze three lanes of traffic from a busy motorway onto a country road which passed through a village along the way was always going to be a recipe for fuming drivers and overheating engines. The fact that progress along the route meant navigating at least three roundabouts and three sets of traffic lights only compounded the difficulties.
You might say more fool me for not checking if there was likely to be any disruption before I made my journey, and you might be right, but there will always be those who cannot make every enquiry before setting off on a trip.
The HA said they had plenty of signs in place to warn people of impending delays, though the experience of many drivers who contacted the BBC seems to contradict this.
The bigger issue is the importance of motorways to the smooth running of people’s domestic and business lives. The M20 incident shows exactly what happens when these major arteries become blocked either because of accidents or – as in this instance – scheduled works.
And one cannot be anything but nervous about the future. With many of our roads already operating at, or sometimes above, capacity at peak times what will the situation be like in fifteen years or so when traffic volume is expected to have grown by around a quarter?
Perhaps we will just grin and bear it in that typically stoic British way. Or perhaps we drivers will demand something be done about it. What might that be? It is unlikely to be significantly more road building – certainly not on the scale needed to meet these increased volumes of cars and lorries, so it might have to be some sort of Pay As You Go motoring which would help manage demand and smooth traffic flows. Unpalatable as this might be to some, surely it is worth considering because the alternative is equally unpleasant – just ask those caught up in the weekend’s gridlock.