A borough tormented by traffic jams and roadworks could be getting its very own highways task force – and some feel it can’t come quick enough.
It comes as the authority acknowledges the impact the congestion is having on the health and wellbeing of drivers, with extra stress and pollution.
It has been suggested the taskforce will assist the bodies, which have “limited experience and knowledge of local roads”, with traffic management plans by providing local knowledge to help maintain the flow of traffic across the towns.
The team would also liaise with large employers, logistics companies, public transport providers, Medway Council, utilities, and other organisations, including schools, to reduce the impact of congestion during the works.
Recently, roadworks across the area were labelled as “absolutely ludicrous”.
Between Maidstone and Sittingbourne, National Highways is working on the £92 million Stockbury flyover project and the M2 junction 5 improvements scheme.
The work has seen parts of the A249 and the M2 closed across various dates with the next scheduled for the A249 Sheppey-bound carriageway between the Bobbing and Stockbury roundabout from 8pm Wednesday, December 6, to 5am on Thursday, December 7.
Just a few miles up the road is Kent County Council’s Grovehurst roundabout improvement scheme which is seeing the “dumbell” junction being replaced with a two-bridge flyover.
As a result, its exit and entry slip lanes on and off the A249 are closed until January.
However, on November 15 it was reverted back to two lanes after receiving backlash for the havoc it was causing businesses and motorists for the last two months.
It has been proposed that establishing a task force will help keep a continued flow of traffic on the A2, especially through Sittingbourne, the A249, and other key corridors, not relying on dispersion through residential streets and rural lanes.
In the agenda for the policy and resources committee meeting, it is stated that the task force will be made up of officers and members from Swale council, including the chair and deputy chair of the Joint Transport Board, as well as representatives from KCC Highways, National Highways, business and education.
This is so it can be a “roundtable, bringing local knowledge and feedback, to assist Kent Highways and National Highways in their duty to ensure the expeditious movement of traffic on the Highway network through Swale.”
The agenda says an alternative option would be to continue the current approach to traffic management which is “leading to considerable delays, lack of local input on proposed diversions and heavy traffic using and damaging inappropriate rural lanes”.
It has been suggested that the cost of operating and funding the task force should be within the works project budgets held by KCC and National Highways.
The agenda also highlights that “congestion along the strategic network, the A2 and A249, is impacting the health and wellbeing of drivers, passengers and residents with issues including stress, air pollution, and noise pollution” and it “has a greater impact on those who often have no choice but to drive.”
Tim Lambkin, who is the managing director of Travel Masters, a bus company based in Sheerness, is welcoming the idea.
The 56-year-old from Minster, who is in charge of 24 to 25 school buses that have routes across Swale previously said that he had to fork out an extra £5,000 a week in staff costs due to his bus drivers sitting in traffic for so long because of KCC’s and National Highways roadworks.
He said: “I welcome the positive news of a possible task force.
“Everything is a help and something like this should have been implemented when the Grovehurst junction improvements first began.
“It will be a big improvement if it is going to work. However, I think in order for that to happen everything needs to be monitored.
“The task force must have input from local business. It is a good idea and we can all work together to make the roadworks easier to deal with.
“I realise these works need doing but organisation around how many closures and improvements are happening at once does need to be in place.
“I’m hoping this is a successful positive move.”
Antonio Amadori lives in Bobbing, which is right in the centre of the roadwork chaos by the Keycol Hill roundabout.
The care support worker covers Swale and has had times when a 15-minute journey to his clients’ homes has taken him 45 minutes instead.
After hearing of Swale council’s task force idea the 54-year-old said: “I think it is a good idea.
“It was only the other day that I was trying to get to Faversham and I counted three sets of temporary traffic lights along the A2 from Sittingbourne.
“It just blocks the road and I have no idea why all this work is allowed to happen at the same time.
“Having a something to highlight issues like this will be good.”
Sittingbourne and Sheppey’s Conservative MP, Gordon Henderson, also feels the same.
He said: “I welcome this initiative by Swale Council. I think it is a good idea for them to liaise with Kent Highways and National Highways to try and improve the traffic management when roadworks take place.
“On a number of occasions recently it has been quite clear that Kent Highways and National Highways have limited experience and knowledge of our local roads, and the likely impact their works will have on residents.
“The temporary closure of Key Street Roundabout and the closure of one lane on the stretch of the A249 from Cowstead Corner to Grovehurst Roundabout are a couple of cases in point.
“Kent Highways were warned in advance, by me, of the likely consequences, and, in both cases, when chaos resulted on the A249 and surrounding roads, both decisions had to be reversed.
“That would not have happened if a proper consultation, with the local authority, had taken place in advance of the works taking place.”
Swale council is unable to comment on the recommendation until after the meeting which is taking place at 7pm tonight (Wednesday) at Swale House in Sittingbourne.
A KCC spokesperson said: “Highway improvements on the A249 at Grovehurst Road and Key Street are required to resolve issues with existing traffic congestion as well as planned growth. Once completed they will improve the capacity of the major road network, giving greater journey time reliability and reduce the need to find alternative routes via the rural roads.
“As part of our ongoing work at the A249 Grovehurst Road junction, we have had to introduce traffic management in line with standards set by National Highways to keep workers and the travelling public safe.
“The traffic management on the Sheppey-bound A249 is in place to protect the safety of drivers and roadworks while we construct the Grovehurst Road Improvement Scheme.
“We will continue to listen to concerns raised with us and adapt where appropriate.
“We recognise this is disruptive and we are working with our contractor to find a way we can minimise disruption for residents and businesses as far as possible.”
For more information on the task force go to page 135 on the agenda which can be found here.
A National Highways spokesman said: “We are committed to being a good neighbour and always try to plan our roadworks carefully to minimise disruption to the local community and businesses. We have recently established a roadwork coordination group alongside our Kent partners to prevent any future clashes.
“We are always grateful for people’s patience when delivering upgrades to our roads, we will continue to listen to feedback from customers, stakeholders and our own teams to find further improvements to how we manage traffic.”