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Smart motorway technology goes live on M3

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Technology that aims to smooth traffic flows and provide motorists with near real time journey information has now begun operation on a new section of smart motorway on the M3.

Main construction work on the £174M project, which stretches 13.4 miles between the M25 and Farnborough, was completed at the end of June when a new permanent fourth lane opened to traffic. A 50mph speed restriction remained in place while the testing of smart motorway technology was finalised.

Now the full four lanes are open at a maximum speed of 70mph with the new technology detecting incidents and queuing traffic, setting speed limits to match conditions and informing drivers about conditions ahead.

“This is a significant upgrade for the M3 and will deliver real benefits for the 130,000 drivers who use it every day,” said Highways England’s smart motorway programme director Shaun Pidcock. “Smart motorways create vital extra capacity, improve journey times and maintain our high levels of safety across the network.”

He added: “New technology will make the road more resilient to disruption, improving journeys by using variable speed limits that will help tackle frustrating stop-start traffic and giving drivers better information on conditions ahead.”

Smart motorways have been designed to be intuitive to drive on according to Highways England. “Normal motorway rules apply: keep left unless overtaking, drive within the speed limit and never drive in a lane closed by a Red X,” the strategic road network operator says

But the concept of ‘all lane running’ has previously encountered criticism, not least from the Transport Select Committee which recommended last year that the Government halt its deployment of these schemes until their safety can be fully assessed.

Despite this Highways England shows no signs of slowing its roll out of smart motorway projects. A Delivery Plan Update published this week details that major schemes starting in 2017/18 will include smart motorways between junctions three and five on the M20 near Maidstone, and on the M6 around Coventry.

Meanwhile a smart motorway on parts of the M60 and M62 in Greater Manchester is scheduled to open to traffic within the same window.

Photo: Highways England