New Smart motorway finally opens at Milton Keynes after four years of work

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The stretch from Newport Pagnell services opened today (Monday)

The phased re-opening of the new Smart motorway between junctions 13 and 16 is happening after four years of roadworks.

Today (Monday) the 4.2-mile section of the M1 north of junction14 at Newport Pagnell services (to Cattle Creep, near Hartwell) fully opened, with the 70mph national speed limit restored.

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It is part of a 23-mile section of the M1 that has been subject to a multi-million pound upgrade by National Highways.

The motorway is re-opening after years of workThe motorway is re-opening after years of work
The motorway is re-opening after years of work

Work began in 2018 to transform it into a Smart All-Lane Running (ALR) motorway to support economic growth and ease congestion in the area.

The changes include include using the hard shoulder as a running lane and also imposing variable speed limits to control the flow of traffic.

There are clearly signed and orange-coloured emergency areas set back from the road and with telephones linking directly to control rooms, and also detection systems to monitor traffic for changes in flows and speeds – including stopped vehicle detection to spot stopped vehicles and get help on the way more quickly.

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And there are Red X signs to tell drivers when a lane is closed or when road workers or emergency services need a space to work. It is illegal to ignore these signs and a £100 fine and three points could be imposed as a result.

CCTV cameras are in place. These have the the ability to see 100% of the carriageway and can be moved or zoomed by operators to monitor and manage congestion and incidents.

A further 4.5-mile Smart motorway section to junction 15 for Northampton is set to fully open in early 2023. Together, these make up the second section of the M1 upgrade.

The third and final section of the upgrade, between junctions 15 and 16, began its phased opening last month, with four lanes in each direction at 60mph, and is expected to fully open by March 2023.

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Smart motorways have invoked some criticism over the years though and in January this year the Department for Transport was forced to pause the rollout of all-lane-running (ALR) smart motorways entirely amid increasing safety concerns. The pause will last until five years' worth of safety data is available

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said at the time: “During the pause, we will continue to make sure all existing ALR smart motorways are equipped with best-in-class technology and resources and are as safe as they can possibly be.”

Meanwhile, National Highways has launched a new ‘Driving on motorways’ hub to provides information about the main features of smart motorways, and advice and guidance on safer driving and what to do in an emergency:   

More details on the upgrade are available here.

The RAC has also published a guide on Smart motorways and how to use them. They are campaigning for more changes to be made to smart motorways to make them as safe as possible, and to help ensure drivers feel safe when driving on them - especially on stretches of 'all lane running' smart motorway where the hard shoulder is removed for good.