Still no end in sight for Wigan's Smart motorway works

Beleagured motorists still can’t look forward to an end date for Wigan’s Smart motorway works.
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While the major engineering project on the M6 between Orrell and Croft looks to be nearing completion – especially at the Wigan end of operations – Highways England isn’t committing to a finish date.

Originally the works, which started pre-Covid in 2019, were scheduled to last until the spring of 2023 (some signage still says that), then it was extended to September this year.

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Wigan's Smart motorway work at an early stage of developmentWigan's Smart motorway work at an early stage of development
Wigan's Smart motorway work at an early stage of development
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But as the month approaches, it looks like that month will come and go without ceremony too, meaning we could be entering a fifth year of narrow lanes, tailbacks, temporary closures and a 50mph speed restriction.

Indeed a National Highways spokesperson would only say this week: "We are working hard to upgrade the M6, with a new lane in each direction and technology to improve journeys.

"We have been making some good progress and will provide an update on opening as soon as possible."

Motorists have complained that work appeared to slow when doubts were cast on the future of more Smart motorway projects and decelerated further in the spring when Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that time was being called on the national plan due to concerns over both costs and safety.

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The Government paused the roll-out after a number of deaths on Smart motorways which were blamed on the hard shoulder being used as an extra lane during heavy traffic, thus not providing the occupants of broken-down vehicles adequate refuge.

Fears have also been raised about 999 vehicles’ inability to get to emergencies if the hard shoulder, as well as other lanes, is blocked with traffic.

And earlier this year the network controlling the matrix signs crashed, meaning that controllers were unable to put a red cross on the hard shoulder lane to protect stricken motorists and vehicles.

While other Smart motorways in the pipeline were axed after a review, it was decided that the M6 Wigan-Warrington operation – along with another on the M56 – should continue because they were too far advanced to perform a U-turn.

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It has been stipulated that far more emergency stopping places be created to mitigate the hard shoulder risks mentioned above.

Some campaigners and groups, the latter including the AA, have called for the work on Smart motorways to be reversed, but so far there has been no sign of the Government’s approving such a measure.

The stated aim of Smart motorways is to improve traffic flow by controlling its speed with matrix signs but also allowing the use of the hard shoulder as carriageway at peak times.