Delays ahead... but it should be worth it, says minister
WORK has officially begun on an £88-million motorway scheme that will allow drivers in the Bristol area to use the hard shoulder.
The "managed motorway" project will include stretches of the M4 and the M5 around Bristol.
Work will include strengthening the hard shoulder, building emergency refuge areas, installing gantries and electronic signs and installing sensors to measure traffic flow.
The stretches affected are near the Almondsbury interchange, including 3.4 miles of the M4 between junctions 19 and 20 and 3.1 miles of the M5 between junctions 15 and 17.
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It will mean two years of delays while the work is carried out and a series of overnight closures.
But it is hoped when the scheme is up and running in spring 2014, it will lead to fewer traffic jams and smoother journeys.
It will be the first of its kind in the South West, following successful trials on the M42 and M6.
Senior project manager Paul Unwin explained how it will work.
He said: "There will be an inductive loop on the road which can detect traffic build ups.
"Then the hard shoulder can be opened, unless cameras on the roadside show there has been an accident.
"What this does is reduces stop start and helps prevent the breakdown of traffic flow."
Critics of the idea have raised concerns about safety given the hard shoulder is normally where you pull over to when you have car trouble.
But Mr Unwin said the pilot projects had seen fewer accidents not more.
He said: "Normally we would have expected 11 incidents since 2006 but there have been no fatalities.
"In an emergency you still pull over, there are no new rules. With road widths in this country there is always room for emergency vehicles to squeeze through."
Preparatory work, including site clearance and the installation of CCTV cameras, started last November.
Around 200 people will work on the project at the height of construction.
Mr Unwin also set out what disruption there would be for motorists while the work is carried out.
He said: "In order to minimise the delays to road users, we are carrying out this work in phases, starting on the M4 section and keeping three lanes available to traffic both directions at peak times throughout the construction.
"A reduced speed limit of 50mph will be in place 24/7, enforced with average speed safety cameras to ensure the safety of road users and our workforce."
Roads Minister Mike Penning MP visited Bristol yesterday for the official launch.
He said: "This junction has been a blight on the region for some time.
"£90 million is a lot of money and there will be some pain when we do the work but the public want it sorted. It will make planning journeys easier. Time stuck in a traffic jam is money lost. The environment is also affected because the least efficient time is when you're idling."
The scheme is one of 20 road projects across the country due to start construction before March 2015, as part of a £2.1 billion government package to boost the economy.