Plans for a tolled Expressway on the M6 between Birmingham and Manchester have been abandoned by the Department of Transport. The scheme was being considered as an alternative to widening the existing road by one lane in each direction from Junction 11a to Junction 19, but the construction would be more difficult than was at first believed, and it could not be completed any sooner than the widening programme, which the Highways Agency believes will take until 2017.

On top of all that, the Expressway would require 50% more land than the widening option, and would add 3.5 billion to the required budget, which already stands at around 23 billion. Yet another factor is the major disruption that would be caused on the existing M6.

"Having considered all the options," says Transport Minister Stephen Ladyman, "I am clear that the right way forward is for the Highways Agency to focus on delivering one extra lane in each direction on the M6. We have carried out detailed analysis, and the extra works and land required, and the costs involved, do not support further work on the Expressway.

"It is absolutely right that we investigate the options thoroughly when considering investment on this scale. The decision will be welcomed by many local residents and environmental campaigners who prefer the widening option."

The National Alliance Against Tolls, already virulently opposed to the existing M6 Toll road near Birmingham, has been campaigning against the Expressway too, but it is not happy with the announcement.

"Though the tolled Expressway will not be built," says a statement issued shortly after the one from the Department of Transport, "the National Alliance Against Tolls fears that the needs of road users are again being ignored by politicians and that road users may end up paying tolls to use the existing road."

This suspicion is based on Stephen Ladyman's comment that "the widening would need to be accompanied by demand management measures to ensure that the benefits of the additional capacity are not locked-in, and not lost through increased traffic levels" - in other words, there is no point in widening the road to reduce congestion only to have congestion build up again as more people use the road.

The NAAT is in no doubt about what the term "demand management" means: "This must be a euphemism for tolls. Drivers do not want tolls. They already paying nearly 1 billion a week on road taxes, with little being spent on the roads. If they can, they will avoid tolls, as is shown with the existing M6 Toll which is virtually empty, while the old M6 is often clogged."
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