Highways England delay two smart motorway projects after “listening to feedback”

North west smart motorway upgrades to the M56 near Manchester Airport and the M6 between Warrington and Wigan, which had been due to start this spring have been put back.

Highways England say the decision to defer both projects comes after the roads body took on board feedback from drivers and congestion in the region should be reduced as a result of the rescheduling.

The work to add extra lanes to the M56 near Manchester Airport and the M6 between Warrington and Wigan have been delayed to prevent overlap with ongoing projects. 

The organisation is currently working on a stretch of the M6 in Cheshire that is expected to be finished next month, while a major upgrade of the M62 near Warrington is also in progress and won’t be finished until 2020. The two further projects won’t start after these current major motorway upgrades have been completed.

The organisation has also set out plans to improve how smart motorway projects are carried out on the North West’s motorways in the future.

They include changes to the layout of roadworks to reduce the need for overnight diversions and finish schemes sooner. Temporary speed limits will also be increased to 60mph when it is safe for drivers and road workers, and three lanes will be maintained in each direction during the day throughout upgrades.

Mike Bull, Highways England’s smart motorways programme manager for the North West, said hundreds of thousands of people across the north west will benefit from a huge investment on the road network over the next few years and the roads agency is keen to help drivers moving while the upgrades take place.

He added: “We’ve listened to what people have been telling us about roadworks and have decided to reschedule two major schemes, benefitting drivers who use our roads to get to work and businesses who deliver goods across the region. We’re committed to the upgrades; we are simply changing the timetable for projects on the M56 and M6. We’re also reviewing how we carry out major upgrades so that we can minimise disruption as much as possible and maintain connections for drivers using the road network.”

Highways England is committed to carrying out the biggest upgrade of the North West’s motorways in a generation and has already completed major schemes on the M62 and M60, as well as opening a new link road between the M56 and M6, since 2015.

The company has also completed almost half of a smart motorway upgrade on the M6 in Cheshire, opening a fourth lane on both carriageways between Holmes Chapel and Knutsford last month.

The temporary speed limit was increased to 60mph before Christmas while testing took place on new technology, and variable speed limits have now been introduced up to 70mph to improve the flow of traffic. The entire 19-mile upgrade between Crewe and Knutsford is on schedule to be finished by the end of March.

Work on a major upgrade of the M62 near Warrington is also due to be completed by spring 2020, increasing capacity by a third. The scheme will benefit commuters who had previously faced average speeds as low as 36mph on their way home from work.

But as well as changing the timings of roadworks, Highways England says it will operate the North West’s future projects differently. Contraflow layouts, where one lane is moved to the opposite carriageway with a temporary barrier between lanes, will be introduced to shorten the duration of roadworks.

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