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How Efficient Is The British Motorway System?

We've Discovered That In 2013, At Least One Lane Was Closed Every Day On The Three Main Motorways.

Sep 05, 2014

It has been over fifty years since the first stretch of motorway in the UK was built. The 8¼ mile long M6 Preston by-pass was opened on the 5th December 1958 by the then Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan and, since then, Britain’s motorway network has grown significantly.

There are now over 2,250 miles of motorway in the UK although motorways account for just one per cent of the total road network in this country. But, just how efficient is Britain’s motorway network and which are the stretches of ‘M’ road to avoid? Keep reading to find out.

Most motorways are never fully open

While motorways and ‘A’ roads account for almost two thirds of all road traffic, the UK’s motorway network is not always the most effective way to travel.

Figures released by a major insurer recently revealed that the majority of UK’s major motorways didn’t run with all lanes open for a single day in 2013. The three most vital routes - the M6, M25 and M1 - had at least one lane closed for maintenance during every single day last year, as did the M4, M5, M60 and M54. 

A Freedom of Information request by the insurer to the Highways Agency also found that UK motorways had lanes closed for maintenance for an average of 247 days last year. More than a third of all the UK’s motorways had lane closures lasting for at least six months and a quarter of motorways were only fully open for 25 days or less. 

Roman Bryl, product manager at the company who carried out the research, said: “Some of our busiest road networks are never fully operational, and lane closures and diversions are a source of real frustration to drivers.

“Obviously it is important that motorways are kept in a good state of repair, but maintenance works can be very disruptive and stressful. Drivers should bear in mind that motorways may not actually be the quickest route for their journey and plan ahead in order to avoid potential delays.”

Britain’s motorway network one of the worst in Europe

While there may be over 2,000 miles of motorways in this country, a quick comparison with other European nations shows that there are fewer motorways in the UK than in almost every other country.

Of the seventeen largest EU states, the UK ranks next to bottom of the league table when you look at motorway provision in relation to the miles we travel by car.

In addition, a 2008 RAC Foundation report found that there are lots of routes in the UK that are not served by motorways – most often when travelling from east to west or vice versa. These include journeys from Oxford to Norwich, Southampton to Bristol and Cheltenham to Northampton.

The report said: “Many journeys are not able to take advantage of motorways because there are none nearby since the network does not serve large areas of the country. This means many long distance journeys have to use unsuitable roads, causing a nuisance to frontages and delays to local traffic, as well as poor and less safe driving conditions for through traffic.

“[Many routes] require passing through a string of towns and villages on roads poorly suited to modern traffic needs and to the detriment of the environment of many small and otherwise attractive towns and villages.”

The best and worst motorways to drive on 

Not only was the M25 criticised for having a lane closure on every day of 2013 but it’s also been named Britain’s busiest motorway.

The section of the M25 between junctions 14 and 15 (the A3133 at Heathrow to the M4) is officially the busiest motorway in Britain. It carries 165,000 vehicles per day.

Other busy stretches of motorway include the M6 between Birmingham and the North West and the M62 towards Manchester.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are a lot of motorways where lane closures are a rarity and are therefore fully in use to drivers.

According to the most recent figures, the motorway where drivers had to contend with fewest closures last year was the 12-mile long M48 which connects England with South Wales. There were only 40 days of lane closures on the M65 in Lancashire and only 55 days on another 12-mile long route, the M58 in North West England.

Other motorways where closures were confined to only a small number of days included the M61 near Manchester (90 days), the M69 in the Midlands (103 days) and the M53 in Cheshire (119 days) 

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