Highways England completing M6 smart motorway project in Cheshire

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Highways England (HE) says a new 20 mile-long (32km) concrete safety barrier on the M6 in Cheshire is nearing completion, as part of a £274m (US$356m) project to upgrade the route to ‘smart motorway’ status.

The HE scheme between junction 16 at Crewe and junction 19 at Knutsford will see the hard shoulder converted to a permanent extra lane, and new variable speed limits will help to tackle congestion and keep traffic flowing. Around 5,000 concrete blocks have been lifted into place, using giant claws on an excavator, to create the new safety barrier in the central reservation.

Each block is 20ft (6m) long and weighs around four tonnes. Contractors have already completed the stretch of new barrier between junctions 17 and 19, with the remaining section due to be finished in the next few weeks.

The new safety barrier will reduce the risk of vehicles crossing onto the opposite carriageway in collisions, and is likely to require fewer repairs, cutting the need for lane closures.

Work has also been taking place to create new emergency areas, install foundations for overhead gantries, improve drainage, repair bridges, and carry out resurfacing.

When the scheme is complete, 258 electronic signs will be used to alert drivers to changes in the speed limit, lane closures and incidents ahead. A total of 70 CCTV cameras will also be installed to provide 100% coverage of the route and allow HE’s traffic officers and the emergency services to respond quickly to incidents.

A total of 18 emergency areas will be built to provide drivers with a safer place to stop if they break down. A similar smart motorway scheme on a stretch of the M62 in West Yorkshire, which was completed in 2013, has resulted in commuters saving around 30 minutes each week.

“The smart motorway upgrade on the M6 is one of the biggest construction projects currently taking place in the North, and I’m pleased we’re now reaching a major milestone with the new safety barrier,” said Mike Bull, HE’s senior smart motorway manager for the North.

“When the smart motorway goes live, the 118,000 drivers who use the route every day will benefit from an extra lane in each direction, increasing capacity by a third. We’ll also be introducing variable speed limits to keep traffic moving at a steady speed and tackle the stop/start conditions and tailbacks caused by sudden braking.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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