The Government has announced that construction is about to get underway to convert three sections of the M1 and M3 into ‘smart motorways’ in a bid to cut congestion.
Patrick McLoughlin, transport secretary, has also announced that following a consultation the speed limit on these sections will remain at 70 mph, rather than be reduced to 60mph.
The new smart motorway schemes are on the M1 junctions 28-31 in Derbyshire, M1 junctions 32-35a in South Yorkshire and on the M3 at junction 2-4a in Surrey.
Smart motorways convert the hard shoulder to a running lane in a bid to “boost capacity and smooth traffic”, and can operate either permanently or during busy periods.
Overhead variable message signs inform motorists of changes in speed limits, queuing and lane closures, while staff in regional control centres use CCTV to monitor incidents.
The Government says the schemes will boost capacity by a third and improve journey times up to 10% through the M1 schemes and 15% on the M3, where average speeds are currently 45mph during rush-hour.
The Highways Agency previously consulted on proposals to limit speeds to 60mph between 7am and 7pm seven days a week because of the potential effect of the new schemes on local air quality.
However, the transport secretary has rejected this approach and has asked the Highways Agency to “rigorously investigate alternatives” as work progresses on the schemes in the next 12-18 months. He has indicated that the Highways Agency “must look for alternatives that maintain the 70mph limit wherever possible”.
Patrick McLoughlin said: "Let me be absolutely clear, I want all motorways to run at 70mph. While it sometimes makes sense to use variable limits to keep people moving, blanket reductions are not acceptable.
"Smart motorways are an effective and cost efficient way of increasing space on our roads, cutting jams and speeding up journey times and I am pleased to announce the start of work on these schemes."
The M1 schemes are scheduled for completion in autumn 2015, and the M3 scheme should open to traffic in 2016.