Planned closure of Reigate Hill southbound: more details provided

David Grantham, 14 August 2020

Map from Surrey CC leaflet, showing road closure in red.

Surrey County Council has provided further background on its decision to close a large section of Reigate Hill southbound from Monday 7 September and to prohibit access to Gatton Bottom.

During the closure, which could last up to 14 weeks, repairs will be carried out to a retaining wall and the vehicle barrier that sits upon it.

The southbound side of the road will be shut 24 hours a day from the M25 Junction 8 roundabout down to a point above the petrol station and pub.

The county council has ruled out temporary traffic lights because they would  mean the work could only be done in shorter sections and would take longer.

Only working at night would also not help because the road will have to be closed anyway for the duration of the project, the council has said.

Access to Gatton Bottom will be closed from the A217 because of worries about enforcing the 7.5 tonne limit on that road, and the potential for a dangerous back-up on to the M25 as drivers decide if their vehicle is suitable.

An official diversion route that has been published is just over 20 miles long, heading north from Junction 8 and taking in parts of Burgh Heath, Epsom, Ashtead, Leatherhead and Dorking before a return along the A25.

Surrey County Council has said that the route has been selected as being on equivalent A roads that all vehicles can manage.

The council says it expects local drivers will find other routes, and will install signs on some local roads saying that they are unsuitable for HGVs.

Buses will be diverted via Pebble Hill Road.

The council has said that it will work with the contractor to accelerate the works as much as possible.

During the closure, the Reigate Hill café will be accessible via Wray Lane and Gatton Bottom.

The work is not being combined with the upgrade of Junction 8 and the top of Reigate Hill that is scheduled for April 2021, essentially because the council is not confident enough that Highways England will begin those works at that time.

More details on the project are below.

What is the reason for the work?
Repairs will be made to a 240 metre retaining wall that runs along the road and a vehicle barrier that is supported by it.

Surrey County Council has said: “The existing structure has been degraded by a combination of accident damage, erosion caused by water runoff, and the weight of heavy goods vehicles using the road.

“Originally built in 1972, it is no longer fit for purpose, and whilst the temporary concrete barrier that has been placed on the footway provides protection from vehicle impact, it does not address the continued degradation of the structure, so a permanent repair is essential to ensure the A217 remains safe for all road users.”

Why will access to Gatton Bottom be closed?
Surrey County Council has said that Gatton Bottom won’t be accessible from the A217, a point that has generated concern as it could have been used to get around the closure, and is currently used as a route to Merstham.

The council’s view is that it will be difficult to enforce the 7.5 tonne weight limit, and that using marshals won’t fix things.

Surrey’s project page says:

Why was Gatton Bottom not used for the diversion?

Gatton Bottom was ruled out as a potential diversion route as it is subject to a 7.5t weight limit, and is wholly inappropriate for the volume and type of traffic that currently uses the A217.

Can Gatton Bottom be used for access only?

Consideration was given to allow access to Gatton Bottom for permitted vehicles, but it is almost certain that prohibited vehicles would ignore the restriction and this would create more problems. When planning our works and traffic management we have to provide consistent, simple and easy instructions for drivers to navigate. Having specific rules for access would be dangerous for all traffic on the M25 junction 8 roundabout. It would cause queues of traffic whilst drivers decided if they could or should use the route. This would be far to dangerous and cause huge tail backs on the road.

Could you use marshals at Gatton Bottom to allow access for cars?

Using marshals at the works entrance to allow cars through would cause huge tailbacks on the M25 junction 8 roundabout and this in turn would be dangerous to all road users and impact the local area. We have experience of using marshals in the past and it can be dangerous as HGV drivers ignore the marshal and will drive through. This would put our team at risk, and ultimately lead to the HGV or unsuitable vehicles getting stuck down Gatton Bottom or the surrounding roads.

What about just closing overnight or using temporary traffic lights?
Surrey County Council’s project page was updated on Wednesday (12 August) to more fully set out the council’s view on why a full closure is necessary.

In particular, temporary lights would mean doing the work in shorter sections, and thus the project would take longer.

Only working at night would not bring any benefit because the road would have to be closed anyway.

The project page says:

Why is a Southbound closure the best option?

Temporary traffic lights with narrowing the carriageway to two lanes and night works were all considered, but these would all be either more disruptive, or less safe, than a closure in one direction for the duration of the works.

The following options were considered and rejected for the reasons stated:

    • There is not enough width to maintain two way traffic past the works, particularly at the southern end of the site.
    • Two way traffic lights would cause queues at both ends of the works, potentially grid locking both the M25 roundabout and Reigate town centre.
    • Temporary Traffic Lights cannot be set up far enough apart to allow the works to be constructed in one phase, so the disruption would be there for longer as the works would have to be done in smaller sections.
    • The site set up requires a temporary barrier to be placed between the live traffic and the site. This means that the chosen traffic management set up will be in place 24 hours a day, so working at night offers no advantages.
    • Closing the A217 to northbound traffic rather than southbound would move any potential disruption into Reigate Town centre. Any traffic ignoring the diversion signage in the town centre (including HGV’s) would then be forced onto residential roads at the bottom of the hill as they would not be able to U-turn in the road.

Traffic lights

These were considered but discounted due to the potential for traffic queues onto the M25 J8 roundabout and Reigate town centre at peak times. There is also a lack of physical space to construct the new wall safely and would increase in the amount of time required to construct the scheme, with inevitable disruption to residents and road users.

Night Working

Only working at night would mean that the works took much longer to complete and would not be a safe option for the works to be carried out. The type of work means that the traffic management would have to stay in place 24 hours – so the working hours would have no benefit and extend the works causing more disruption to road users and residents.

Works done in small sections?

The entire length of the wall needs to be rebuilt. Carrying out the work in sections would be unsafe to our workers and cause queues in both directions due to the traffic lights in use. There is a lack of physical space to carry out the works safely using traffic lights. Carrying out the works in smaller sections would greatly increase the time the works took and ultimately have a bigger impact on road users.

What's the diversion route?
A map of the official diversion route has been published by the county council.

The diversion route is shown by dots (clicking on the map will open the full PDF)

At over 20 miles long, the official diversion route has drawn concern on social media.

Surrey has said that the route represents a path suitable for all vehicles, and is based on using equivalent A-roads.

The council says it still expects local drivers to also make use of other routes, and signage will appear warning of roads unsuitable for large vehicles.

The project page says:

What is the diversion and why is it so long?

Surrey Highway’s has one diversion for these works, this will be suitable for all vehicle types. Our diversions take into account the vehicles that will be using it. In this instance it needs to be suitable for HGVs and large vehicles. Our diversions are like for like and use the same ‘A’ class roads. These routes will not include dangerous turns, low bridges or unsuitable roads.

Will drivers use alternative routes and use unsuitable roads?

We expect local drivers to use more local routes. We can not enforce the route any drivers take including large vehicles and we know that in this area particularly drivers ignore official diversions and sue other routes. We will be placing additional signage stating ‘Road not suitable for HGVs/Large vehicles’ on the roads leading off from the A217 to mitigate for anyone trying to use unsuitable roads.

Why wasn't the work done when the roads were quieter during lockdown?
Some residents have queried on social media why the work couldn’t have been done when the roads were near-deserted at the height of lockdown.

In response to a question from reigate.uk, Surrey said that lead times did not allow them to do the work in the lockdown period.

A spokesperson said: “These works have been being planned for some time.

“All SCC works over a certain value have to go out to competitive tender, and the contractors must be allowed sufficient time to accurately assess the cost of doing the works for this to be worthwhile.

“We were finalising the contract documents in March, unfortunately we could not have predicted what was to happen next with regard to Covid -19.

“We have to obtain permission for any works undertaken on the roads to ensure our works do not clash with others in the area, which has also influenced the start date of this scheme.”

Couldn't the work have been combined with Highways England's project to improve Junction 8?
Some residents have flagged the point that the oft-postponed upgrade to Junction 8, including the installation of more lanes at the top of Reigate Hill is due to take place in April 2021.

But Surrey has said on its project page that the two sets of works can’t be combined:

“We have been in discussion with Highways England about working collaboratively with their works.

“The scheme for the junction 8 improvements was postponed last year due to a lack of funding.

“Six months ago when we started planning the retaining wall works we contacted Highways England to work collaboratively with them for these works.

“Highways England has told us consistently that the works have not been scheduled and still do not have any funding and that they were not in any position to work collaboratively with us for these works.

“We have since planned and programmed our retaining wall works and agreed on start dates and instructed the teams for the works.

“We can not delay the start without a large financial cost to Surrey Highways.

“Highways England have recently published that they have April 2021 as an intended start date for their junction improvement works.

“These dates are an indication of when they may start works, but it is likely that like last time they do not have the funding and the works do not go ahead.

“We cannot delay our works at cost to us on the chance that the junction 8 improvement works may go ahead in 8 months’ time.”

What about buses and emergency vehicles?
The council’s project page says:

Do the buses know? How will it affect my journey?

Surrey highways and the bus operators a have been involved with the planning and progress of these works since March 2020. We have had meetings, discussions and ensured that all the information was presented clearly. Having consulted with bus companies the bus diversion is via Pebble Hill each bus company will be communicating this to their passengers.

Will emergency vehicles be allowed access, and do they know about the works?

All the emergency services are advised of all works on Surrey Highways. We are in communication with them and they can request access if the require. This has not been the case here. There is a fast and clear route on the ‘Smart Motorway’ on the M25/M23 which allows the emergency services access to East Surrey Hospital via a dedicated lane.

How will drivers know about the changes?
The council’s project page says:

We have placed signs on site advising of these works on 5 August to give drivers advanced notice of our works and to help them plan their routes accordingly.

In addition to this, we have additional signage around the surrounding area:

Highways England – M25 and M23

We have been in discussions with Highway England and will ensure that gantry signage is used on the M25/M23 warning motorists of the closure so they can divert before they get to the actual road closure on the A217.

Local routes

We are also putting warnings up on our large static information signs around the wider area, so motorists can divert before they get to the closure.</blockquote>

What about access to homes and businesses?
An information leaflet says: “The road will remain open northbound, enabling access to the hotel and properties along Reigate Hill to be maintained.

“The Reigate Hill café and car park will remain open and can be accessed via Wray Lane and Gatton Bottom.”

Where can more information be found?
Surrey County Council’s project page is here, and a leaflet is here.

 

Cover / social media image of road sign credit istock.com