A Guide to Contraflow Systems

An important element of road management is the contraflow. Roadworks, accidents and changes to transport routes can all necessitate the use of this system. Setting up a contraflow is a complex process that involves careful planning and precise execution, with traffic management specialists following a series of steps designed to ensure safety and efficiency. This blog aims to briefly clarify how contraflow systems work.

What is a Contraflow System?

‘Contra’ means against or contrasting – so, therefore, ‘contraflow’ means contrasting flow. In terms of traffic management strategy this means vehicles travelling in the opposite direction to the usual or expected traffic flow.

While contraflow systems are not an especially common thing on UK roads, most drivers will encounter them at some point. They’re predominantly found on motorways and dual carriageways. In a typical contraflow system set-up, one or more lanes that carry traffic in one direction are repurposed for traffic travelling in the opposite direction. Physical dividers, such as cones, water-weighted barriers or concrete barriers, are placed to separate the opposing traffic flows.

Roads which are managed to include contraflow lanes often have reduced speed limits so that the safety of everyone using the road is ensured. This includes road maintenance workers and any other professionals in attendance, not just drivers and passengers in vehicles. Depending on the reason for a system being installed, the duration of contraflow can vary significantly – from a few hours to several months.

There will usually be some form of signage installed which provides road users with accurate information regarding the length of time the contraflow will be in operation.

Contraflows on Motorways

Contraflow systems are most commonly found on motorways and dual carriageways, and these set-ups provide a broad template for contraflows of all kinds at different scales and in different scenarios. The motorway and dual carriageway set-up will entail one or more lanes being closed, and traffic redirected across the central reservation to the opposite side of the road. These lanes tend to be narrow, and it’s crucial for vehicles to stay within their designated lane unless directed otherwise.

Once the contraflow system is in place, it will be monitored continuously, including regular inspections and adjustments to ensure the flow of traffic remains smooth and safe. There may be CCTV, on-site personnel and/or traffic sensors deployed to monitor conditions. There will be a rapid response plan in place to provide assistance and minimise disruption in the event of accidents or breakdowns within the contraflow.

Removal of Contraflow Systems

Once the need for the contraflow system has passed, the set-up will be carefully dismantled, with all temporary barriers, signage and road markings removed and the road restored to its original condition. A final inspection takes place to ensure that the road is safe for normal traffic flow, and any remaining debris or hazards are cleared, with permanent road markings re-applied, if necessary, before the road reopens.

Throughout the entire process, compliance with the road safety laws is absolutely crucial – nothing is more important than safety. This will include speed limits, the visibility of signs and markings and clear communication between all relevant parties. Traffic management organisations play a critical role in ensuring road safety and efficiency during the use of contraflow systems. By carefully controlling and directing traffic, contraflow road management keeps roads operational under challenging conditions.

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