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2023 update: This piece was originally written in 2018 as the M4 was due to undergo smart motorway works. In the 5 years since, a lot of changes have taken place – not only on the M4 but other motorways across the country. As of April 2023, all plans for new smart motorways have been stopped indefinitely due to a lack of confidence felt by drivers as well as ongoing financial pressures in the country.

Existing smart motorway sections, such as on the M4 J3 – J12, will stay in place. There are campaigns for smart motorways to be scrapped entirely and returned back to their previous state however there is nothing final on this at this moment in time (August 2023).

2018 news: Come September and M4 users (specifically, those between Junctions 3-12) will be the latest to be plunged into the new technology that is smart motorway driving. Love them or loathe them, this latest stretch to be widened and modernised will ultimately end up being the longest stretch in the country by the time it’s complete, with 32 miles of smart motorway planned to span the distance between London and Theale in Berkshire.

What’s Planned?

Aside from a whole load of roadworks, the plans for this stretch of the M4 include:

  • 11 bridges will be demolished and rebuilt to accommodate widened/extra lanes
  • 4 additional bridges will also be widened
  • New emergency areas with telephones that connect drivers to regional control centres controlled by Highways England
  • Highways England have estimated that, by completion, there will be places of ‘relative safety’ every 1.12 miles on average, and no more than 1.6 miles apart

These plans come hard on the heels of concern from motoring groups RAC and AA about the actual real-world safety of users on smart motorways, with no real place of safety if the hard shoulder is not accessible. This, alongside users still trying to get to grips with variable speed limits and lanes, has led to confusion through the country, with people worried that smart motorways are actually not as “smart” as they make out.

The Facts

If you’ll be affected by this work, you’ll want to know the facts:

Estimated Final Completion Date: March 2022

Estimated Interim Completion Dates:

  • J12 – J11 – Feb 2022
  • J11 – J 10 – Jan 2022
  • J10 – J 8/9 – May 2020
  • J8/9 – J 6 – Dec 2021
  • J6 – J5 – Mar 2022
  • J5 – 4b – Mar 2022
  • J4b – 3– Mar 2022

Projected cost: £862.4m

Author Rebecca Sturgess

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