TRANSPORT SECRETARY Alistair Darling this week brushed aside Highways Agency efforts to widen the M6, publishing his own plans for a toll financed motorway instead.
A Department for Transport (DfT) consultation document published on Tuesday indicates that the new toll road will run parallel to the existing M6.
This is thought to reflect concern that widening the M6 would be too disruptive.
But this week the Agency confirmed that no actual work has yet been carried out on the toll motorway plans.
It said it was still progressing with the widening plans and would report to ministers in the next few months. It has yet to be briefed on its role in working up the tolled option.
But in 2002 Darling had asked Agency officials to work up plans to widen 80km of the M6 between junctions 11a and 19 to four lanes.
This was after he had accepted widening recommendations in the government's Midlands to Manchester multi modal study.
NCE understands that Agency plans to widen the M6 have been held up by the need for more detailed traffic modelling and economic evaluation than was initially expected .
But the Department for Transport justified Darling's plan saying that the tolled road would cost 10% less than conventional widening. Work is expected to take eight years.
A DfT spokesman also said that the Agency had helped draw up a route map for the parallel motorway contained in the consultation document.
Highways consultants believe the toll motorway plan is an attempt to reconcile tightening funding constraints with the need to push ahead with the multi-billion pound widening of the M6, M1 and M25.
It is thought that relieving congestion in the M6 corridor is a lower priority than the £1.6bn widening of the three lane sections of the M25 and the £1.9bn M1 widening between junctions 21 and 30.
These were added to the Highways Agency's targeted programme of improvements in April (NCE 22 April).
The announcement comes a week ahead of chancellor Gordon Brown's Comprehensive Spending Review and a review of the government's 10 year transport plan.