How’s the new M3 ‘Smart’ Motorway for you?

On Friday 30th June 2017, The Highways Agency officially opened the M3 in Surrey & Hampshire as a new, four-lane ‘Smart’ motorway – between junction 4a for Farnborough and junction 2 for the M25 – two & a half years since the start of this major road project & at an estimated cost of £174 million.

M3 Smart Motorway

How has the new stretch been for you?

This section of the motorway is used by over 130,000 vehicles a day and our experience has been that the traffic is flowing well, with less congestion. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised considering there is 33% more capacity, up from the pre-works three lanes to the new four lanes.

The speed limit of 50mph initially continued while testing of the smart motorway technology was completed but the new 13.4 mile section is now operating at the national speed limit.

Unfortunately, many drivers appear confused by the conversion of the hard shoulder to a usable lane and avoid it, and the old inside lane, at all costs. Instead they stick to the outside two lanes as their comfort zones.

Another issue is the conflicting signage when joining the M3 from the M25; the new gantry shows an end to the average speed limit restriction but half a mile down the road a large metal sign tells us we are still within a 50mph limit? This confusion over the speed motorists should be maintaining represents a further restriction to traffic progress, due to uncertainty caused by the mixed messages.

Finally, alongside the ‘Smart’ motorway upgrade, Highways England have also been carrying out the most extensive maintenance of the M3 since it was first built in 1971, fully refurbishing the motorway & its slip roads. This work is still not complete leading to continued overnight lane & carriageway closures of sections of the motorway, to the continued frustration of motorists!

Overall the finished project promises the potential of much improved traffic flow. However, that leaves one major question mark over the impact (sorry!) of a collision or breakdown between the designated refuge areas, with no hard shoulder to seek safety on. We shall see….