The Highways Agency has announced its intention to turn the M4 into a “smart” motorway for the 31 miles between J3 and J12. A smart motorway is one where you can drive on the hard shoulder and there are variable speed limits. An existing example is the M42.
The cost of the project is estimated at between £600 and £850 million. At the moment all that has been agreed is the “development” stage i.e. working up the scheme so it is ready to go. The final decision as to whether to actually construct it will be taken later on.
At this initial stage, the Highways Agency has had a touring exhibition to tell people about what is planned, which visited Winnersh at the end of March. The feedback from the exhibition will be used to make sure all relevant topics are covered in the formal consultation which is coming in the Autumn.
Obviously, noise barriers for the motorway are a big issue in Winnersh and Sindlesham and were the main subject I raised with Highways Agency staff and their consultants at the exhibition. Noise studies will be done as part of the development stage of the project. I was told that if the modelling shows that the changes to the motorway will increase noise more than 3 decibels (which is detectable by the human ear) AND the level was higher than is acceptable (a figure which they could not specify but I believe to be 68 decibels), then the Highways Agency would have to do something about mitigating the noise. Otherwise not.
If the HA is not responsible, then we are back to the current situation of Wokingham Borough Council having to fund barriers. I have asked whether they will consider it, especially the motorway works create a window of opportunity for doing it much more cheaply. That’s because the council wouldn’t have to pay for road closures and access etc, because the Highways Agency would already have that set up for their works. Whether we will get anywhere, I don’t know.
I also found out that the Highways Agency will be using a road surface which should be quieter than what we have now, but won’t be the quietest possible, because they have discovered that the really quiet surfaces don’t last very long.
And finally, it seems that on the current evidence, none of the motorway bridges locally – Reading Road by the allotments, King Street Lane and Mill Lane – will have to be replaced.
If you want to find out more about this project you can sign up to get email alerts from the Highways Agency by going to http://www.highways.gov.uk/roads/road-projects/m4-junctions-3-12/