Final preparations are taking place for the M25 to become England’s first ‘smart’ motorway, improving journeys and boosting the economy.
Two sections of the motorway opening this month and next, will, for the first time on a motorway scheme in England, have the hard shoulder converted for use as a permanent traffic lane for drivers and have enhanced technology to manage traffic flow to improve the reliability of journey times.
The improvements – spanning some 20 miles of the M25 - are part of a new generation of technology-driven improvements on the strategic road network known as ‘smart motorways’.
The advance on the M25 - which will be repeated on other motorways - is the permanent conversion of the hard shoulder for traffic, providing 24/7 extra capacity.
The two sections are between junctions 23 and 25 in Hertfordshire and between junctions 5 and 6/7 on the Kent/Surrey border. The introduction of smart motorways will improve journey time reliability for drivers.
John Martin, Highways Agency senior project manager, said: “Around £1.7 billion is being invested into roads in the South East by 2021 with 145 new lane miles of capacity added.
“Most of the work to improve journeys on these stretches in Hertfordshire and Kent/Surrey is complete and we are now testing the new technology.
“We are delighted to be able to open the first part of the northern section ahead of the planned full completion in December 2014.
“The southern section is completing significantly earlier than planned due to rescheduling of the programme.
“Soon the smart motorway will be complete and we are now asking drivers to get smart and find out more about how to use it, the types of signs and signals they will see and what to do in the event of a breakdown.
“This really is the start of a new age on England’s motorways.”
However, the FTA is concerned that motorists may not be aware of the how these changes will affect their driving.
Malcolm Bingham, FTA's head of road network management policy, explained: "With the opening of the two stretches of the M25 Smart Motorway imminent, FTA is concerned that motorists need to fully understand how these stretches of road will work.
“The changes that have been made are quite significant, so drivers must become familiar with the types of new signs and signals they will see and what they should do in the event of a breakdown."
Final preparation are taking place to open the initial section of the M25 Smart Motorway between Junctions 23 (A1M/South Mimms exit) to 25 (Potters Bar) Monday 14 April, with the second stretch to be opened between junctions 5 (Sevenoaks/A21) to 7 (M23 exit) in May 2014.
On each section the work to remove the traffic management will be carried out over a number of nights. The temporary 50mph speed limit will remain in place until the section opens.
On the Hertfordshire section work to remove the existing traffic management which has been in place during construction is taking place overnight and will be completed by the morning of Monday 14 April, when the temporary 50mph speed limit will be lifted and the new look section of motorway will be fully open.
Drivers will benefit from the full completion of the scheme later this year.
On the southern section the traffic management is due to be removed at the end of this month, with the section fully open in May. Further details will be announced nearer the time.
On this section work has completed ahead of the planned December 2014 date due to a reprogramming of the work schedule and good weather over the crucial construction period.
Bingham said: "Whilst any improvements to make journey times more reliable are always good news, FTA is saying that drivers need to make themselves aware of the changes to the road.
“The Highways Agency has produced an information leaflet on the new ‘Smart Motorway' operation, and the Association is urging fleet operators and their drivers to look to the advice provided and ensure that they are as smart in the use or the road as the technology is on these new sections."
A public information campaign to help drivers find out more about smart motorways includes information online, on Youtube, in retail outlets such as motorway service areas, radio advertising, and leaflets.
For further information, click here.