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M1 - The dark horse

The £4.5bn DBFO to widen and maintain the M25 is stealing the headlines with a shortlist of three bidders to be announced in October. But the Highways Agency is quietly working up plans for a massive overhaul of the M1.

Work is now underway to widen the section between junctions 6a to 10 which takes motorists from the M25 to Luton. But this is the tip of the iceberg.

Under the control of project director Neil Owen, contractor Balfour Beatty/Skanska with Atkins as designer kicked off in March on 6a to 10's 32 week programme. Work has begun on the northern section between junctions 8 and 10 where major remodelling is needed, particularly at junctions 8 and 10 themselves.

Utilities are a major issue - £5M alone is being spent to move electricity pylons running alongside the motorway.

Hard on the heels of this work will be the next section to junction 13 at Milton Keynes. The contract has been awarded to Costain/Carillion which is using Scott Wilson as designer. The scheme is currently out to public consultation.

Work should start in 2008. Packaged with it is the Dunstable northern bypass, otherwise known as the A5-M1 link.

'But this is a regional scheme and is starting to lag behind. Ideally we'd like to build the two together, ' says Owen.

No work is planned between junctions 13 and 19. 'The multi-modal study ignored it, ' says Owen, so next comes a £150M upgrade of junction 19 - the M6 intersection. This is a massively complex project, with a two level interchange becoming three with free-owing interchanges for trafc on the A14, M1 and M6. Skanska with Jacobs Babtie as designer is signed up ahead of a possible start at the back end of 2007.

Junctions 19 to 21 are also skipped before the big one - the two stage £2.4bn widening of junctions 21 to 30 between Leicester and Shef eld.

Contract 1 is a £400M 'quick win' online widening between junctions 25 and 28. It excludes work to junctions themselves and involves no land take.

Invitations to tender are soon to be issued and will feature an enhanced ECI contract where bidders give a 'budget commentary' will be compared to one produced by an independent contractor, in this case Birse.

ECI contracts are not tendered on price, but bidders do offer comments on the available budget.

'If we've got all of the tenderers producing a commentary that we can compare to an independent commentary and to cost information we have from other schemes such as Neil's or the M25 widening, then we can have greater condence in the budget, ' says Highways Agency project director for this sectionTony Turton.

'We don't want to waste our time or tenderers time on projects which when it comes to target cost setting we can't afford.' Contract 2, which may or may not be a DBFO, has just gone through public consultation. The biggest scheme in the Agency's programme in both cost and scale it is a 85km long section with 170 structures including major crossings of the River Trent and Erewash.

The consultation unsurprisingly drew a mass of responses - 74,000 in all. Once these have been processed, a preferred route announcement will follow.

Work is not expected to start until 2010 and should take four years.

The nal section to be upgraded - a £1.3bn widening north of junction 30 up to junction 42 - is the least well developed and has just gone out to public consultation.

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