Ken Larkin, 48, has worked all over the world on projects ranging from the tunnel to Jamaica’s Montego Bay airport.
He is currently employed by Highways England’s main contractor in Cheshire and surrounding counties Balfour Beatty Mott MacDonald where he has a hands-on role as an overnight site inspector.
Over two thirds of roadworks take place overnight in the north west and Ken is supporting a new initiative to let drivers know what happens on the routes while they are asleep, timed to coincide with the clocks going back and the nights drawing in.
A new video has been released giving a behind the scenes look at the wide range of work that happens overnight in the region from improving the network to maintenance work including collecting litter.
While Ken’s job means he helps to plan and then supervise everything from barrier repairs to gulley cleaning, he is a resurfacing specialist.
From an asphalting family - ‘it’s in my blood’ - he now lives in Scotland but stays in the north west during the week while he’s working nights.
“Our teams can resurface hundreds of metres a night but we always start the shift with a safety briefing,” said Ken.
“That’s the most important thing followed by the quality of the work. It’s great to see so many high-quality schemes taking place in the region and to be part of a fantastic team.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than getting compliments from drivers – which we do get – happy that their journey to work or the shops or whatever has become a whole lot nicer and smoother thanks to us working away while they’re probably asleep.”
Ken is particularly pleased with the quality of work on a couple of schemes being delivered exclusively overnight, a £1m project to resurface and make other improvements around junction 24 of the M6 and a £1.7m scheme to resurface the main road to the Port of Liverpool.
“Nobody likes a worn carriageway with potholes but you’re always going to get wear and tear and that means roadworks. For most people, that means heading home for a bit of tea, telly and bed and waking up to a shiny new road surface on their way back to work in the morning.
“They don’t see the maybe 50 or so road workers out there working in the dark and the cold while they are sleeping.
“We’re all in it together really, whether you’re setting out traffic management cones and barriers, removing the old surface, delivering materials, or putting in the new surface and then the new reflective road studs and white lines and, like magic, all finished in time for the carriageway to re-open for the rush hour.”
For Ken though, that’s the way it should be. “You do get used to it. For me, working overnight now is a way of life and a fact of life.
“People want smooth roads but they don’t want hassle on their way to the office. Given the volume of traffic during the day, we are restricted to doing work between maybe 10pm and 5am.
“That narrow working window is the biggest challenge. Every job needs to be really well planned so we can be away from the motorway by 5am.
“Luckily, we have some really great contractors in the area and they understand the need to provide quality and pace – as well as other considerations like working sensitively overnight in residential areas.”
Ultimately for Ken it’s the road users who make it all worthwhile.
“We do get the odd bit of abuse from overnight drivers and even people driving into roadworks but most people are polite and supportive. Then there’s the people who write in and say what a great job we’ve done ironing out potholes and making their journeys smoother.
“We’ve got some good, hard working teams out there at night and it’s nice when you get feedback like that.”
In the front line is an army of Highways England suppliers and their subcontractors delivering everything from new gantries carrying electronic signs to barrier repairs and resurfacing in sometimes narrow overnight working windows.
Some of the work involves closing a carriageway overnight for safety reasons but more often than not even night time road users are kept on the move with contractors working with lane and hard shoulder closures while traffic passes by.
Andy Withington at Highways England in the north west, said: “We have some high profile schemes such as the Manchester smart motorway which we are working on around the clock but to minimise disruption to commuters and businesses we are doing – and have always done – the majority of our work overnight, including repairs, maintenance and smaller improvements.
“That means dozens of road workers out on the motorways and major A roads every night in all kinds of weather helping to keep the economy on the move by carrying out repairs and improvements when the roads are quiet.”
Highways England’s commitment to 24-hour working doesn’t end with roadworks. Its customer contact centre is staffed around the clock alongside the Traffic England website and Twitter feeds, which give drivers live traffic information when they need it.
Traffic officers also patrol motorways through the night and are there to help deal with incidents and keep traffic moving.
The regional control centre, based at Newton-le-Willows, has staff glued to CCTV screens through the day and night helping to monitor traffic and manage incidents.