Less Than 10 Weeks Until M6toll Opens to Traffic

Tom Fanning, Managing Director of MEL, said progress on the construction of the UK's first tolled motorway had been excellent and the civil engineering works are now entering the final stages.

Mr Fanning explained that a number of safety, operational and logistical matters are being finalised before the road can open to traffic. These include:

• testing of all communications along the 27 mile route including emergency telephones, electronic signage on overhead gantries, and CCTV cameras.

• full and final safety testing of the tension of the central reservation crash barrier.

• installation of signage, motorway fencing, road studs, line markings etc.

• final review checks by the Road Safety Auditor and the Highways Agency.

Once these are complete, MEL will be awarded a Permit To Use by the Highways Agency, and the road will open to traffic.

Mr Fanning said: "Opening a road is a very complex process and motorists' safety must be paramount. We are confident that working with our contractors CAMBBA and the Highways Agency we will open the road by late January which is the deadline we have all been working to.

"We know that both motorists and hauliers are keen to have the choice of a free-flowing alternative to the congested M6 in the West Midlands. Now their wait is nearly over and we look forward to announcing the opening date in due course."

Mr Fanning also unveiled the phased "countdown to opening" process for the M6toll. This was developed by MEL after extensive liaison with the Highway's Agency, Department for Transport and Central Motorway Police Group to ensure motorists are introduced to Britain's first tolled motorway as safely as possible.

The first phase of the countdown to opening will start about five days before the road is fully open to traffic. At this stage the road will be primarily available to local traffic from Lichfield, Tamworth, Sutton Coldfield, Brownhills and Cannock:

• Drivers will be able to join the M6toll from most entry points along the road, except the M6 (North and South) and the M42. Junction T8 (just off Junction 11 on the M6) will also be closed

• Drivers will be able to leave the road at every exit

The second phase of the countdown to opening occurs the day before the road is fully open and provides additional access for northbound traffic from the M6:

• Northbound motorists will now also be able to join the M6toll from Junction 9 on the M42 and from Junction 4 on the existing M6. Drivers will still not be able to access the road from Junction 11A travelling south on the M6, nor from Junction T8

• As before, vehicles will be able to leave the road at every exit

The final phase is the day the road is fully open:

• The opening of the final main junction with the M6 from the north will allow southbound drivers to join the M6toll from the M6. At this point vehicles can enter and exit the M6 Toll from the M6, M42 and all intermediate junctions, and the M6 Toll will be fully integrated into the UK's national motorway network for the first time.

David York, National Traffic Director for the Highways Agency, said: "MEL has consulted with the Highways Agency and the Police on the method of opening and we are all agreed that phased opening to allow a gradual build up of traffic is the safest method of introducing the M6toll into the adjacent network."

Chief Inspector Philip Marsh Chief of the Central Motorway Police Group, said: "The CMPG has been working extensively with both MEL and the HA to ensure the road opens to traffic quickly and easily. By using a phased process, motorists will be gradually introduced to the road over a period of days and we are supporting this process to ensure the safety of the public."

In May, MEL announced a standard charge for car drivers of just £2 to use the 27 mile motorway. This includes a £1 discount which is available for the first 10 million vehicles on the road. Business users will be able to reclaim VAT on the road tolls, reducing the HGV charge to just £8.50 and the van price to £4.25.

Projected benefits of the M6toll include:

o The M6 Toll could reduce journey times through the West Midlands by up to 45 minutes (source: Trafficmaster)

o Regional investment agency InStaffs recently estimated the road has created up to 5,000 jobs and £270 million of investment in the West Midlands

o New developments attributed to the proximity of the M6toll include the £150m Kingwood Lakeside in Cannock; the £100m Automotive Components Park in Wednesbury; and the £15m service area at Norton Canes

o MEL will employ up to 150 people and a further 200 people will be employed at the motorway service station at Norton Canes

Mr Fanning announced that MEL had had positive discussions with the UK's leading hauliers. "Having had discussions with the UK's top 100 hauliers we know the demand is there for an alternative to the congestion of the M6. Early sales of tags are also encouraging. We believe the M6toll will become the route of choice for industry."

David Irlam, Managing Director of James Irlam & Sons Ltd, one of the UK's leading haulage firms, said he welcomed the coming of the M6toll. "We have suffered from some of the worst congestion in Europe on the M6 for more than 20 years and each year it has seemed to get worse. The opening of the M6toll will give us the option of choosing an alternative route to avoid the jams and deliver goods to our customers when they need them."

A major marketing campaign including radio advertisements and a giant hoarding on the Fort Dunlop site has been launched to prepare motorists for the launch of the M6toll.