Highways England (HE) has opened the latest road in the UK to be upgraded to ‘smart motorway’ status following a £174m (US$230m) project to install the latest technology on the M3 in Surrey and Hampshire.
Cutting-edge technology installed on a 13.4 miles (21.5km) long section of the motorway between the M25 and Farnborough sets the speed limit to match conditions; helps spot any queuing traffic, incidents or broken down vehicles; and informs drivers about conditions ahead. The hard shoulder has been converted to a new fourth traffic lane in each direction, boosting capacity by a third on the vital route between London and the South West. Since the agency was created in April 2015, HE has completed 16 major improvements, with a further 15 upgrades due to be started or open by spring 2018.
Drivers during the morning peak period of August 1 were the first to benefit from the fully upgraded road. Main construction on the project was completed overnight on June 30, when the fourth lane was available for use with a 50mph (80km/h) speed restriction remaining in place, while testing of the smart motorway technology was finalized.
Now, the full four lanes are open at 70mph (112km/h), with the smart motorway technology detecting incidents, actively managing traffic, and giving drivers live information. The M3 is also the first smart motorway to trial a new style ‘orange’ emergency area that is intended to be more visible to drivers. Even without a hard shoulder, there are safe places to stop every 75 seconds of driving on average.
“This is a significant upgrade for the M3 and will deliver real benefits for the 130,000 drivers who use it every day. We’ve added 26.8 miles (43km) of new lanes to this busy section of the M3, and completely overhauled the technology to give drivers better information to help with their journeys,” explained Shaun Pidcock, director of HE’s smart motorway program.
“Smart motorways create vital extra capacity, improve journey times, and maintain our high levels of safety across the network. New technology will make the road more resilient to disruption, improving journeys by using variable speed limits that will help tackle frustrating stop-start traffic, and giving drivers better information on conditions ahead. As well as the smart motorway upgrade, we have also been fully resurfacing the motorway and its slip roads and restoring it to an ‘as new’ condition.”