Rishi Sunak bans new smart highways

Construction of new smart highways has been canceled as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak acknowledged safety and cost concerns.

Fourteen planned smart highways – with 11 already suspended and three earmarked for construction – will be removed from government road construction plans, given financial pressures and in recognition of a lack of public trust.

Activists have welcomed the move but have called on the government to now return the hard shoulder on existing conversions.

The Department for Transport said the schemes would cost more than £1 billion to build.

But the department added that construction of two sections of the smart motorway at junctions six to eight of the M56 and 21a to 26 of the M6 ​​will continue as more than three-quarters of them have already been completed.

Existing stretches will remain but will be subject to a safety reset, so there are an additional 150 emergency rest stops across the network.

Around 10% of England’s motorway network is made up of smart motorways.

They involve various methods of managing traffic flow, such as converting the hard shoulder into an active travel lane and varying speed limits.

But there have been long-standing safety concerns following fatal crashes in which vehicles stopped in busy lanes without an emergency lane have been hit from behind.

In January 2022, the government suspended the expansion of highways where the hard shoulder is used as a permanent permanent traffic lane.

This is to enable five years of data to be collected to assess whether they are safe for drivers.

In his campaign for the leadership of the Conservatives last summer, Sunak vowed to ban them.

“All motorists deserve to have confidence in the roads they use to get around the country,” said the Prime Minister.

“That’s why I pledged last year to stop building all new smart highways, and today I’m delivering on that promise.

“Many people across the country rely on driving to get to work, get their children to school and go about their daily lives, and I want them to be able to do so with full confidence that the roads they drive on are safe.”

Death of Jason Mercer

Activist Claire Mercer’s husband Jason was killed in a crash on a smart highway (Danny Lawson/PA)

Pressure had mounted on the government to clear the routes, which was criticized by MPs and road safety campaigners including the RAC and AA.

Activist Claire Mercer, whose husband was killed on a smart highway in South Yorkshire, has welcomed the government’s move but pledged to keep pushing for the hard shoulder to return to every road.

He told the PA news agency: “It’s great, it’s great news.

“I am particularly delighted that it has been confirmed that scheduled, ongoing routes have also been cancelled. I didn’t think they would.

“So that’s good news, but obviously it’s the existing ones that are killing us. And I’m not satisfied with other emergency shelter areas.

“So it’s half the battle, but we still have half the battle to do.”

Jason Mercer and another man, Alexandru Murgeanu, died in 2019 when they were hit by a lorry on the M1 near Sheffield after coming to a halt on the inside lane of the smart motorway section following a minor collision.

Sarah Champion, Labor MP for Mercer constituency in Rotherham, said: ‘I’m relieved the government has finally listened to motorists and common sense, but this announcement is long overdue and I need to see the details before we celebrate. .

“Will the government return the hard shoulder on existing conversions? Will the patterns currently under construction be reinstated? Why now, when two parliamentary select committee inquiries, their own review and countless campaigns by family members of those who died in these death traps were not enough to convince them.

AA chairman Edmund King said: ‘We’ve had enough coroners give their harrowing and deadly judgments where the lack of a tough shoulder contributed to the death.

“Finally the government has listened and we are delighted to see the demolition of ‘smart’ highways…

“We would also like to see the hard shoulder restored on existing sections in due time.”

RAC road safety spokesman Simon Williams said: ‘Our research shows that all the lanes running through smart motorways are deeply unpopular with drivers, so we are delighted that the government has finally come to the same conclusion.

“It is now vitally important that plans are made to make the existing hundreds of miles of these types of highways as safe as possible.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: ‘We want the public to know that this government is listening to their concerns.

“Today’s announcement means no new smart highways will be built, acknowledging the lack of public confidence from drivers and cost pressures from inflation.”

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