As part of its program of converting the country’s motorway network to ‘smart’ status, Highways England (HE) has completed the biggest ever upgrade of the M6 in Cheshire, with initial results from another section of the scheme already showing improved traffic flow.
HE has completed a £265m (US$350m) project to add extra lanes and new technology to a 19 mile-long (30.5km) stretch of the motorway between Crewe and Knutsford. This is the most significant change since the M6 first opened in the county in 1963.
A fourth lane has been introduced in each direction and a total of 258 electronic signs, 104 traffic sensors and 70 CCTV cameras will help tackle congestion and improve journey times for around 120,000 drivers every day. The upgrade is the first of four smart motorway schemes to be finished that will increase the M6’s capacity by a third on 60 miles (96.5km) of the motorway between Coventry and Wigan.
The new overhead electronic signs will provide drivers with live information about their journeys, including changes in the speed limit, lane closures and incidents on the route. Traffic sensors at the side of the motorway will also be used to automatically set variable speed limits to keep traffic moving, preventing tailbacks and stop-start conditions caused by sudden braking.
The new CCTV cameras will provide extensive coverage of the motorway to help HE’s traffic officers and the emergency services respond quickly to incidents, with frequent emergency areas giving drivers a safe place to stop if they break down. Other improvements that have been carried out as part of the scheme include: resurfacing the entire route with a low-noise road surface, installing a new concrete safety barrier to reduce the risk of vehicles crossing onto the opposite carriageway in collisions, and fitting 2,297ft (700m) of acoustic barrier to reduce noise levels for people living close to the motorway.
HE reports that drivers have already been benefitting from better journeys after the first two sections of the M6 upgrade were completed earlier this year, and the whole scheme has been finished over a week ahead of schedule. Statistics from the first week of operation of the stretch between Middlewich and Knutsford (junctions 18 to 19) show that traffic was flowing at around 70mph (112km/h) for 22 hours each day, with the new variable speed limits also helping to keep the motorway congestion-free during peak times.
“We have delivered the biggest upgrade to the M6 since the motorway opened in Cheshire almost 60 years ago, and it will mean quicker and more reliable journeys for everyone from businesses making long-distance deliveries to commuters getting to and from work,” noted HE’s chief executive, Jim O’Sullivan.
“Tens of thousands of drivers travel on the M6 between Crewe and Knutsford each day making it one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the country, so the extra lanes and new technology will help make the M6 fit for the future.”