M4 Closure Westbound, Bristol, Friday 25 September 2015
The M4 near Bristol and the Severn Crossings was closed on Friday 25 September between J21 – J22 due to an incident involving an over-turned HGV. This fully laden refrigerated vehicle went through the nearside barriers, where it then rolled down the embankment and overturned and shed most of its load. The substantial recovery work and repairs to barriers necessitated the full carriageway closure.
At 06:31 on Friday morning Avon and Somerset Police informed Highways England that a HGV with a 40ft trailer had overturned and was down an embankment on the M4 westbound carriageway towards Wales. The incident happened beyond the split for the M48 crossing as indicated below. This enabled the M48 to be used as a natural diversion route for traffic heading for South Wales and crucially M49 northbound traffic was unaffected as they could merge onto the M4 ahead of this closure.
Upon notification our South West Regional Control Centre responded by immediately setting signals for traffic approaching the incident and by 06:40 Avon & Somerset Police informed our Traffic Officers that a full closure of the carriageway was required. In response to this development, a further Highways England Traffic Officer unit initiated a rolling road block to bring traffic to a complete stop. Additionally our contractors were tasked to attend to implement traffic control measures and to respond to what was clearly going to be a prolonged incident due to its nature.
Significantly, emergency services at the scene had now clearly determined that the HGV driver was seriously injured and would need to be extracted from the cab of the truck. South West Ambulance Services and Fire Crews from Avon Fire and Rescue were on scene.
Work to extract the driver was continuing as the morning progressed and by 08:15 efforts to assist the driver were advancing, however effects on traffic flows were beginning to become significant. Approaches to the toll booths at the severn river crossing for the M48 were increasing with traffic data indicating 20 minute delays for traffic and by 08:50 there was approaching queues of some 2.5 miles Traffic from the earlier road block was routed to the M48. By 09:15 two recovery operators tasked to attend were on scene and Highways England contractors had laid out cones for the full Chapter 8 road closure with signing for drivers approaching the closure.
Our National Traffic Operations Centre based near Birmingham was also engaged in setting strategic signing for customers travelling from farther afield to warn of the M4 closure J21 – J22.
Throughout the mid-morning further work took place to stabilize the vehicle and efforts to deal with the trucks load were ongoing. The trucks load of frozen goods and its related packaging were strewn across the nearside of the carriageway on the hardshoulder area but also significant amounts were down the embankment. Notably, by 10:00 a crane which had been deployed as part of the recovery operation had stabilized the vehicle. Other related matters were also attended to during the mid morning including assessment of barrier damage and an electrician who was busy assessing damage to a fibre optics box, which contained wiring as part of CCTV infrastructure in the vicinity. Finally some diesel spillages also had to be taken care of by our attending contractors.
Importantly, work to get the driver to hospital was successful but matters of police interest indicated that a full police investigation would also need to be immediately conducted. Thus by midday effects to traffic were increasing with most impact on the M48, interestingly at this point the M49 and M4 routes around the point of closure were largely unaffected, however later in the day that was to change. Strategic signing was encouraging southbound M5 traffic heading from the Midlands to use the M50 route into Wales if possible.
During the early afternoon Highways England via various press and media messages were disseminating the message for traffic to use the M4 and M49 with a view to lessen the impact for customers by easing the pressure on the M48 route. Including further tweets on the SW Twitter feed and via local radio and Breaking News on Highways England websites. At 14:30 the Fire Service commander at the scene confirmed that the remainder of the trucks load was fully removed and therefore recovery of that HGV could now be done safely. The load would later be transhipped to another truck.
During the mid to late afternoon recovery work continued and by 16:00 effects on traffic were 40 minutes of delay for queues wishing to cross the M48 and by now this queue had extended rearward to M4 J18 which is the junction for the A46 (Bath) turnoff. Crucially with these queues now extending rearward beyond the Almondsbury Interchange. M5 traffic was now being affected as it could not merge onto the M4 in the normal manner due to the abnormal congestion.
After prolonged work during the day our contractors were able to positively confirm just before 17:00 that recovery work was completed. Whilst this would not signify the end of the disruption it did allow Highways England to prepare for re-opening of some of the carriageway to alleviate the stress on the surrounding road network. Over the course of the next few hours Police, Fire and Highways England planned the next phase of the operation. This involved removal of an earlier incident screen and the removal of the stricken HGV by the recovery operator. Liaising with our Traffic Officers, contractors then altered the approaching traffic management and lane 2 was re-opened. This was confirmed at 20:30.
As the incident moved into the late evening delays for approaching traffic began to reduce and by 22:00 delays were at 30mins above profile and the M5 and Almondsbury Interchange routes were running freely without traffic queues. Overnight with the traffic becoming ever lighter, contractors continued with clearing the remainder of the debris from the road surface area which included the hardshouder road surface and replaced the damaged barriers. The barrier repair work was completed by 04:20 Saturday morning.
To minimise disruption to customers a decision was made to re-install lane 1 closures as future overnight roadworks as there is still some of the shed load which has to be retrieved from the verge.
Throughout this incident, Highways England updated customers via our website www.highways.gov.uk/traffic-information/ and via our regional twitter feed @HighwaysSWEST
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