Highways England (HE) completed the biggest ever upgrade of the M6 motorway in Cheshire earlier this year, and figures from the first few months of operation show that peak-time drivers are now travelling up to 15mph (24km/h) faster than before work started.
HE’s figures show that the extra lanes and new technology on one of England’s busiest stretches of motorway are now saving commuters up to 40 minutes each week. Off-peak drivers travelling towards Crewe after 9am and leaving the office after 6pm are seeing the biggest improvement to their journeys, saving more than eight minutes along the 19 miles (30.5km) long route every day. Commuters working a nine-to-five shift near Manchester are also spending over 30 minutes less time on the road each week. They are now able to travel at an average speed of 66mph (106km/h) on their way home from work; 29.4% faster than before work started on the upgrade. Businesses are also benefitting from faster and more reliable journeys throughout the day, with drivers travelling southbound previously facing average speeds of 50mph (80km/h) between midday and 1pm. They are now able to travel 14mph (22.5km/h) faster, saving almost six minutes along the route and cutting journey times by over a quarter.
Initial statistics from the first three months following the M6 smart motorway’s completion also show that the number of collisions along the route has fallen by around 30%. There were 97 incidents reported from April to June 2015 compared to 68 incidents during the same three months this year; an average of 10 fewer collisions every month. A study into nine completed smart motorway schemes across the country found that the casualty rate has fallen from one death or injury reported for every 6m miles travelled before the upgrades took place to one for every 8.3m miles travelled today. Overall, safety has improved by over 25% on England’s ‘all lane running’ sections of motorway where electronic signs display red Xs and variable speed limits to close lanes and control the flow of traffic, and emergency areas provide a safer place to stop.
HE completed the £255m (US$313.7m) project to upgrade the M6 between Crewe and Knutsford in March 2019, creating the most significant change since the motorway first opened in Cheshire in 1963. A fourth lane has been introduced in each direction and a total of 258 electronic variable message signs (VMS), 104 traffic sensors, and 70 CCTV cameras are helping to tackle congestion and improve journey times for around 120,000 drivers every day.
“Tens of thousands of drivers use the M6 every day to travel to and from work and this latest research shows that the extra lanes and new technology we’ve introduced are making a massive difference to people’s journeys,” said Mike Bull, HE’s smart motorways senior manager in the North West. “We’ll be starting work on several similar major motorway upgrades over the next few years and hope drivers will bear with us in anticipation of the long-term benefits these projects will bring.”