Pledge on new smart motorways hits reverse as it emerges two-thirds are to open without extra laybys
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Pledge on new smart motorways hits reverse as it emerges two-thirds are to open without extra laybys

18/09/2022  |   317 Views

Pledge on new smart motorways hits reverse as it emerges two-thirds are to open without extra laybys

By David Churchill, Transport Editor For The Daly Mail

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Two-thirds of new smart motorways are to open without extra emergency laybys – despite ministers promising 150 of them.

Of six schemes under construction, four will open as originally designed with laybys up to 1.5 miles apart.

This contradicts guidelines laid down by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that the distance should not exceed a mile.

They are on stretches of the M27, M4, M56 and M6.

The extra refuges will be fitted by 2025 after they are completed.

Four of six smart motorway schemes under construction will be opened as originally planned with laybys 1.5 miles apart - despite guidelines laid down by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that the distance should not exceed a mile

Mr Shapps said 150 extra laybys would be added to the six smart motorway schemes, although four will open before the laybys have been added - with 2025 set as the deadline for them to be fitted post hoc

A second scheme on the M6 and one on the M1 will get additional refuges before being opened.

Last month Mr Shapps said the six schemes totalling 100 miles would go ahead because they were more than half completed.

He announced £390million for the 150 extra laybys.

He also ordered 11 other schemes be halted so more safety data could be gathered.

Campaigners say having more frequently spaced laybys is crucial because it can take a driver 75 seconds to drift to one if travelling at 60mph. But this can drop to 30 seconds if they're spaced less than a mile apart.

Pledge on new smart motorways hits reverse as it emerges two-thirds are to open without extra laybys

Tory MP Greg Smith sits on the Commons transport committee, which published a report calling for action in November after identifying deadly safety flaws on the controversial roads.

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He said: 'This is crazy. If something is under construction they need to build it properly, and as the select committee report identified, properly means with appropriately distanced refuge areas, not what we see on a lot of smart motorways that are already open.

'We also know that putting something in at the point of construction is a lot cheaper than retro-fitting, so this has to be looked at through both the lens of, first and foremost, safety, but also value to the taxpayer.'

Louise Haigh, Labour's transport spokesman, said: 'This exposes the glaring flaws in the Transport Secretary's action plan.

'It looks like ministers are cutting corners with road safety and risking more avoidable tragedies.

Critics have accused the government of trying to save money at the expense of safety by opening smart motorways early before the additional hard shoulders have been added

'The Government should stop taking people for fools, think again, and guarantee safety work is completed before the new smart motorways are opened.'

Claire Mercer, whose husband Jason was killed on a stretch of the M1 with no hard shoulder in 2019, said: 'It's not a surprise, I'm no longer surprised at the lengths they will go to to open these roads regardless of safety.

'They've tried saving money, but it's killing people and they need to accept that and stop.

'At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many of these emergency refuges they put in, it's never going to be as good as having a permanent hard shoulder.'

Last month the Mail revealed how another 250 refuges – 400 in total – will be needed to ensure emergency laybys on smart motorways are spaced on average less than a mile apart.

But ministers do not plan to install these – if at all – until the end of 2030 when the next five year road strategy ends. This is yet to be agreed. It was originally thought the less-than-a-mile target would be met by 2025.

Around 40 per cent of breakdowns on ALR smart motorways happen in a live lane due to a lack of emergency laybys to pull into.

National Highways' smart motorways programme director, David Bray, said: 'Safety is our top priority and in terms of fatality rates, smart motorways are the safest roads in the country.

'We are already working to increase the number of emergency areas by 50 per cent by putting another 150 in place by March 2025.

'As was set out in the response to the Transport Committee's report, a decision on retrofitting the remainder of the network will be considered as part of the next Road Investment Strategy [which ends in 2030].'

National Highways is the roads agency in charge of the roll-out of smart M-roads.

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