Sheppey Crossing safety fears raised in Kent County Council report 16 years before horror pile-up involving 130 vehicles
County road chiefs raised concerns about the lack of lighting and the potential for accidents in bad weather at the Sheppey Crossing nine years before it was even built, it has emerged.
Kent County Council flagged up its concerns in 1997 - nine years before the crossing opened, a report seen by the KM Group reveals.
The report indicates the county council was so worried about aspects of the design it pressed the Highways Agency to put on record that it would be compromising safety if the crossing was not properly lit.
The Sheppey Crossing, which opened in 2006, and the Kingsferry Bridge
And it suggests ministers ruled out lighting the crossing on grounds of cost and because conditions were not "sufficiently different" to other main roads.
The report was presented to county councillors in 2006. It refers to the council's own technical appraisal of the scheme and a meeting in 1997 with Department for Transport and Highways Agency officials.
Emergency vehicles flank the scene of the crash on the Sheppey Crossing
It states that notes from that meeting recorded "the weather conditions also raised the importance of lighting".
The report goes on to state "it was agreed that the Highways Agency need to state that they are prepared to compromise safety issues if they do not light as recommended."
Former Kent Police Chief Constable Mike Fuller
The report also reveals in detail the concerns expressed by the then chief constable of Kent Police, Mike Fuller.
It quotes a letter he wrote to the transport secretary Alastair Darling setting out a series of concerns about safety.
On the 70mph speed limit, Mr Fuller said: "In the view of my officers, such a high speed limit would be unsafe and too fast for the extraordinary road conditions. I ask that the speed limit be reviewed in the light of this."
On the lack of a hard shoulder for broken down vehicles, he said: "The combination of fast-flowing and high volume traffic approaching stationary vehicles will make road conditions particularly hazardous."
He also flagged up concerns about how the emergency services would deal with accidents and breakdowns.
He argued a physical barrier was needed when the crossing had to be closed, rather than relying on police laying out traffic cones.
"Such a barrier would also ensure that any bridge closures would be effectively enforced."
Despite these reservations, the transport minister who was then responsible - the Kent MP Dr Steve Ladyman - declined to agree to any changes.
The report to the Highways Advisory Board of Kent County Council in September 2006
On lighting, Mr Fuller was told the scheme was built in line with the Department for Transport's guidance and there were "no extraordinary conditions" that warranted it.
In its response, the Department for Transport told Mr Fuller: "While the provision of lighting would be of assistance in the event of a breakdown or accident, the cost of providing and maintaining it and the environmental impact would more than offset these benefits.
"Conditions on the bridge would not be sufficiently different to those elsewhere on the trunk network to make an exception."
A car left without a roof after the driver was cut free. Picture: Chris Davey
Wrecked vehicles on a car transporter involved in the accident
The same argument was used to reject calls for a lower speed limit, with the DfT again saying the crossing had been built in line with governmental standards.
"There are no extraordinary conditions... in the design and construction of the road which would require a speed limit of less than 70mph and indeed would suggest to the driver that lesser speed was needed."
Kent County Council sought to press the government to adopt a 50mph limit, but to no avail.
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