England’s newest hard shoulder running scheme is to be opened on the M6 motorway today by transport minister Chris Mole, a month earlier than planned.
From today motorists travelling on a 11km stretch of England’s busiest motorway will be able to use the hard shoulder as a traffic lane during busy periods.
The scheme on the M6 near Birmingham – delivered as part of a £150M contract - comes following the successful M42 pilot, also in the West Midlands, which has delivered safer and more reliable journeys.
Mole is also to announce that the first ‘through-junction running’ scheme – to maximise the benefits of hard shoulder running – is expected to open on the M42 on Wednesday 9 December.
“The M6 is the first motorway after the successful M42 pilot to see the hard shoulder opened up as a running lane to ease congestion and make journey times more reliable. This crucial scheme will make an invaluable contribution to business and economy and I am delighted that the benefits are being brought to road users on this vital national transport spine a month ahead of schedule,” said Mole.
“By 2015, an investment of around £3bn - half of our planned spending on the national roads programme – is expected to deliver 340 additional lane miles for road users through schemes like this, making extra capacity available when needed on some of the busiest stretches of England’s motorways.
“Our commitment to finding innovative solutions to tackle congestion does not stop there and I can confirm today that from next week the Highways Agency will launch a new scheme to enhance the benefits of the M42 managed motorway scheme.”
From 9 December motorists travelling southbound on the M42 at junction 5 near Solihull will be the first in the UK to be able to drive along the motorway hard shoulder between junction slip roads – ‘through-junction running’. This will provide a continuous four lane section of motorway on the M42 southbound from J6 to J4. Previously drivers were required to exit the hard shoulder when approaching junction 5.
Funded by the Government’s fiscal stimulus package, the £3M project on the M42 forms part of the Highways Agency’s work to kick-start the economy.
Today’s opening marks the completion of the Managed Motorways scheme on the M6 between junctions 4 and 5. Managed Motorways use a range of innovative technology to actively control traffic. Features such as variable speed limits and opening up the hard shoulder to traffic at peak times are designed to improve traffic flow and reduce congestion, whilst delivering safer journeys.
Results from the M42 pilot showed more reliable journey times for drivers (a 22% improvement) and safer journeys – with a reduction in the number of accidents from an average 5.1 a month to 1.8 a month.
Highways Agency regional director Tim Harbot said: “We are delighted to deliver these benefits a month early, providing additional capacity to the M6 in the run up to Christmas.
“These improvements will help road users make their journeys safely and more reliably by using variable speed limits to manage the flow of traffic and opening up the hard shoulder as a running lane to provide additional capacity when required.
“Work continues on the M6 between Junction 8 (Rayhall) and 10a (M54) to deliver hard shoulder running. We expect to open this scheme to traffic in spring 2011.”
On the M6, 96 lane specific signals, 24 driver information signs and 23 overhead lightweight gantries have been installed. The new signals show drivers when mandatory speed limits are in place, as well as showing which lanes are open to traffic. The driver information signs use text and internationally-recognised pictograms to give drivers information about the road ahead.
Emergency refuge areas (ERA), with emergency telephones directly connected to the Highways Agency control centre, are provided at frequent intervals so that vehicles that breakdown during the operation of hard shoulder running can stop safely.