UK’s longest motorway to get £900m tech upgrade

The M6 is to be fitted with sensors, cameras, and signs allowing motorway officers to manage traffic

The stretch of the M6 in Cheshire pictured here will be among the first to have new technology installed   Credit: Dave Thompson/PA Archive/PA Images

The UK’s first – and longest – motorway is to get a “major technology upgrade” over the coming months, the government has announced.

In a £900m project, a 60-mile stretch of the M6 between Coventry and Wigan will be fitted with cameras, sensors, and electronic signs. The rollout will be undertaken in four stages.

The first of these stages will see 258 signs, 70 CCTV cameras, and 104 traffic sensors installed between Crewe and Knutsford. This work is due to be completed by spring 2019, according to Highways England.

The new technology is designed to allow officers to respond to traffic conditions and incidents and take steps to minimise disruption. 


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“The new smart motorway technology will allow variable speed limits to be automatically set on overhead signs to improve the flow of traffic, preventing stop-start conditions and tailbacks caused by sudden braking,” Highways England said. “The technology will also be used to detect queuing traffic, breakdowns and collisions as they happen so that Highways England’s traffic officers and the emergency services can respond quickly to incidents.”

The tech refresh comes as the M6 celebrates its 60th birthday. The eight-mile Preston bypass – now part of the M6 – opened on 5 December 1958, allowing the highway that runs from Leicestershire Gretna to claim the title of the UK’s oldest motorway.

At more than 230 miles, the M6 is also the country’s longest motorway – more than 30 miles ahead of the M1.

Andrew Jinks, smart motorway director at Highways England, said: “The M6 provided a major economic boost to the country when it first opened 60 years ago, and it still provides a vital link between London and Scotland, through the West Midlands and North West.”

He added: “Our motorways have changed massively over the past six decades and smart motorways could be just a glimpse of the technology transformation still to come. In 60 years’ time, driverless vehicles could be as commonplace as a car radio.”
 

Sam Trendall

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