Back then, the official line was that Brock would be in place until at least mid-April, and would remain until the need for it was over. The plan is all about Brexit, of course, and the fear of delays to Channel crossings causing a backlog of freight at the ports. With the Brexit deadline pushed back to the autumn, the immediate threat of leaving the EU without customs arrangements in place is gone, and Brock can be stood down.
Three days ago, it was stood down, with work taking place over the weekend of 13 April to remove the contraflow and restore coastbound traffic to its own side of the motorway. On Monday 15 April, Highways England was please to announce that the contraflow had been removed. Hurrah! Except that - despite assurances last month that three lanes each way would be restored - it hasn't quite happened like that.
The non-removal of the non-permanent barrier
If you read our first blog post on Operation Brock, you'll be aware that the "temporary contraflow" looked anything but temporary, and it was our guess that the barrier - bolted to the road surface every few metres for a distance of over 13 miles - was not going to be taken away until Operation Brock was completely finished. There are also changes to road markings and verges on the Londonbound carriageway that make the contraflow difficult to lift.
What's now in place on the M20 between junctions 8 and 9 is, therefore, a semi-removal of the semi-permanent contraflow.
Traffic heading coastbound, from Maidstone to Ashford, has been restored to its own carriageway, and is now running in all three lanes with a full hard shoulder and the 70mph limit restored. Traffic heading Londonbound, on the other hand, still has a Variguard barrier dividing its carriageway - and is still travelling in two narrow lanes with a 50mph limit.
The reason for this halfway house is clear: Operation Brock is far from over, it's just been temporarily suspended, in the most easily reversible manner, until it's required again. And until the UK's permanent relationship with the EU is settled and operations at Dover and Folkestone are running as normal, journeys from Ashford to Maidstone will be made on two narrow lanes and at a reduced speed.
Roads.org.uk will, of course, continue to keep an eye on Operation Brock.
Why couldn't they allow northbound traffic to use all four lanes of the carriageway (still divided by the barrier of course)? This would have improved capacity because the current layout looks somewhat absurd. Maybe we can also use some quick and dirty solution to explain to the drivers where they need to go: for example tell them that lorries, coaches, etc. shall use the left pair of lanes, and cars shall use the right pair of lanes.
Last year we had a NIGHTMARE journey back after landing at Dover from Dunkirk at around 18.00 on a Tuesday. Almost the whole of the M20 seems to now be at 50 mph. Then we got delayed for several hours with a lorry crash north of the Dartford crossing. Then it was slow all the way to the M1 and slow once on it, then the M6 the same. Frankly I think Highways England should be renamed Movement Prevention England !! I see their pinch points improvements now cause more delays than they were meant to solve. Obviously not much can be done if HGVs collide and block everything, but the shear number of speed restrictions was mind-boggling.
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- "Operation Brock - work to remove M20 contraflow complete", Gov.uk, 15/04/19.