The rollout of smart motorways has been suspended by the government until at least 2025 in response to safety concerns from MPs and motoring groups.
In October 2019, Highways England revealed that an additional 300 miles of smart motorway without hard shoulders would be rolled out across England by 2025. This has now been postponed.
Smart motorways, which were introduced to increase road capacity and manage traffic, have been heavily criticised by safety campaigners. The government’s change of tack comes in response to a report by the cross-party transport select committee demanding a halt to the programme and a number of safety enhancements.
A smart motorway is a section of a motorway that uses traffic management methods to increase capacity and reduce congestion in particularly busy areas. These methods include using the hard shoulder as a running lane and using variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.
There are three different types of smart motorway. They currently include: controlled motorways, dynamic hard shoulder running schemes and all lane running schemes.
‘Controlled motorways’ have three or more lanes with variable speed limits, but retain a traditional hard shoulder. The hard shoulder should only be used in a genuine emergency.
‘Dynamic hard shoulder’ running involves opening the hard shoulder as a running lane to traffic at busy periods to ease congestion.
‘All lane running’ schemes permanently remove the hard shoulder and convert it into a running lane.
Schemes to convert stretches of the M3, M25, M62 and M40 will be put on ice until five years’ worth of safety data from the controversial roads are available, ministers said. The government says it will also pause the conversion of seven dynamic smart motorways to all-lane running while it assesses the data, before making a decision on next steps.
Smart motorways already under construction will, however, be completed, the DfT said. That includes stretches of the M1, M4 and M6 due to be finished in 2022 or 2023. The DfT said failing to complete them would cause “significant disruption” for drivers.
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