Families stuck in standstill traffic for 12 hours. No communication from the authorities. Drivers not knowing whether they will be able to make it home.
This is the sort of thing we've seen all too often on the roads to Dover – usually caused by the French. Yet this the problem with the Department for Transport. Time and again they seem unable to put people travelling on the roads first.
We all remember the summer of 2015, when strikes by French ferry workers led to scenes of bedlam. Queues of 4,600 lorries stretched back 30 miles. Emergency teams handed out more than 18,000 bottles of water and 6,500 meals to truckers and passengers. Four days' disruption cost the economy £1 billion.
A year later, in the summer of 2016, a shortage of French border staff led to extraordinary disruption. There were delays of up to 10 hours with traffic queuing back 12 miles. 250,000 people were caught up in the chaos – many forced to sleep in their cars for two nights.
Then last week we saw it all again – this time at the M25 Thames Crossing. Two lorries collided between junctions 30 and 31. Before long, huge tailbacks formed along the busy motorway.
Yet it didn't have to be this way. I happened to be driving back from East Anglia that day and, luckily, had checked the traffic before getting too close. I knew that with the motorway closed, people would start heading towards the Blackwall Tunnel and that would soon snarl up. The only way to get back to Dover was to go all the way round the M25 in the other direction.
If I hadn't checked, we would have been stuck all night long. Just as thousands were – babies who went hungry, diabetics for whom time can be critical and the elderly and infirm suffered too. All because the information provided by Highways England was wholly inadequate. There was no warning of the gridlock that lay ahead. Listening to the radio phone-ins, many drivers had the same experience. The roadside signage flagged up possible queues of one hour – when in fact people were stuck the whole night. It's not good enough.
The chaos showed yet again how fragile our road infrastructure really is. Just like when the French cause delays at Dover, a closure of the M25 causes gridlock for thousands of people. It's not a regional problem – it's a national one. It shows how the Department for Transport is not fit for purpose.
That's why I've been fighting to secure resilient roads. To get the Lower Thames Crossing taken forward at speed. It was approved last year. Yet progress so far has been at a snail's pace. Everyone knows we need a viable alternative to Dartford. Yet it takes years for the Department for Transport to build even the simplest road in today's Britain.
Or lorry parks for that matter. We need lorry parks along the M20 and the M2/A2. Yet despite the urgent need to get going, the Department for Transport has conked out. Their latest claim is that motorways are best for parking. That may be an inevitability given the way they carry on. Yet it's time they put their foot on the accelerator, built resilient roads, ensured motorways are for free flowing traffic, the lorry parks are built and the Thames Crossing is taken forward at speed. Yet above all, they need to make sure people on the road come first.
Photo: Brian Chadwick
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