Why do roadworks take so long?
Roadworks are the bane of every driver's life. They seem to take forever.
The main reason they take so long is actually really simple - and there are a few extra reasons too.
Main reason: roads are dangerous
Most of us like to think we're good at driving, or at least not terrible, so this may come as a shock. Working on the roads is really dangerous.
On English motorways alone, every day hundreds of vehicles accidentally leave the motorway - almost always due to somebody's stupidity. It's a simple fact of maths that sooner or later one of these is going to leave the motorway and end up on top of a roadworker.
For this reason, the busier a road is, the more precautions staff have to take. And due to decades of government under-investment, the UK's roads are extremely busy. So busy that many of them aren't alowed to be worked on during the day as the odds of a worker being killed are too high.
This is mostly down to driver stupidity. Have you ever seen what happens when a lane is closed off for a short period of time? They have miles of warnings, then they park a big lorry, painted bright yellow, with a huge arrow and phenomenally bright flashing lights. Yet still every couple of weeks somebody manages to crash into them.
I really have no idea how - and it doesn't matter. If they were stupid enough to do that, the fact is they are definitely stupid enough to run over a road worker.
Our roads are too busy
Even if drivers weren't so dangerous, working with traffic is still difficult. Maintaining live lanes - especially three or more of them - is difficult. Imagine having three lanes of traffic through the middle of your office!
As a result, the fastest way to get any work done is to close the whole thing. That's why they can usually build a new motorway faster than they can repair an existing one.
The problem is, nobody is brave enough to suggest shutting a major road for two months. The complaints this would attract would outnumber it if they were to do the work slowly over five years.
Other reasons: you can't work at night
In some areas, residents have complained so much that they aren't allowed to do any work at night - the best time to close some lanes and get on with it.
I'm sort-of symapthetic to them. Nobody likes trying to sleep next to a building site; I wouldn't wish it on anybody. But equally I do feel some of them should get over it.
You can't get the staff
This answer applies specifically between 2014 and 2017.
The UK has under-invested in its roads and railways for decades. As a result, anybody with any skill or passion has quit the industry.
In the run-up to the 2015 General Election, David Cameron promised a phenomenal investment in the UK's roads or railways. Problem is he didn't check whether there were any competent staff about to do it - and there weren't.
As a result hundreds of roadworks were started, with nobody around to do any work.
Economies of scale
If you have five miles of barrier to replace, the fastest way to do it is to put five miles of cones out, and then make your way along and replace it as you go.
This is cheaper than moving the cones around all the time, which is an expensive and slow process.
Unfortunately it also means having five miles of roadworks with only one spot being worked out, which we lal know is frustrating. As a result, the government recently announced that roadworks are now going to be much shorter - even though this will take longer overall.
Roadworks are a scheduling nightmare. You need the right specialist on the right site at the right time, with the right materials arriving in the right order with the right weather to use them. As soon as something goes slightly wrong, the whole process stops.
Why do they leave the cones out with nobody working?
There is a misunderstanding that average speed cameras are there to protect the workforce. This isn't true.
It was made up by roadworkers because it's much easier to explain that to drivers, than it is to tell them the truth: cones, speed limits and speed cameras are to reduce the chances of other drivers doing anything stupid.
Motorways have very high safety standards. If some of those standards are disabled: gaps in the barrier; trenches next to the road; signs aren't in; lanes are narrow, you need to do something to make up for it. Because if you don't, and somebody manages to crash into it (which they inevitably will), they will blame it on you.