CONTROVERSIAL plans to convert the hard shoulder on the M4 motorway between Theale and London into another running lane of traffic have come under fresh criticism from protesters.
As a decision date moves closer, Reading Friends of the Earth have urged the Government to heed concerns raised by MPs earlier this year.
Under Highways Agency proposals, around 32 miles of the road between junction 12 at Theale junction 3 at Hayes will be widened to four lanes in each direction as part of the ‘smart motorway’ roll out.
Similar schemes already operate on stretches of the M25, M1, M42 and M6.
A decision by the Secretary of State on the national roll out of ‘smart motorways’ is expected to be made soon, with the decision stage of the scheme due to end on Saturday.
However, in June, MPs criticised the plans, recommending they are halted before it can be proven the plans are safe.
In their report, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee said: “Overall we conclude there are journey time and reliability improvements of ‘all lane running’, and our concern is that risks arising from converting the hard shoulder are an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements.”
The report added that one year of data from expansions on the M25 was not enough evidence to use in deciding to roll out ‘all lane running’ on a national level.
The plans would see the hard shoulder on the M4 converted to a running lane, while new technology providing up-to-date information to drivers would be installed to help keep traffic flowing.
Eleven overbridges would also be replaced along the M4 and six underbridges widened to accommodate the four lanes.
The scheme would also include emergency refuge areas with telephones.
The Highways Agency argues the changes would provide “real benefits to drivers and the economy”, but last week the proposals came under fresh criticism from protesters, with Reading Friends of the Earth raising fears over the safety of ‘all lane running’.
Spokesman John Booth said: “The ‘smart M4’ proposal is to spend around £860m to create a ‘controlled motorway’ (with signs, cameras and speed controls) and to introduce ‘all lane running’ on the hard shoulder.
“Perhaps £500m of the cost is to replace 11 bridges to allow ‘all lane running’ because the hard shoulder stops at bridges.
“A controlled motorway with a hard shoulder will be safer and cheaper than the ‘smart M4’ and will add some peak-hour capacity by controlling speeds.”
West Berkshire councillor Alan Macro (Lib Dem, Theale) was also critical of the plans saying: “My main concern is on safety. If you break down, you’re relying on someone watching cctv and other people following the instructions. I think there could be a terrible accident at some point.”
If the scheme goes ahead, it is expected to be completed by 2022.
A Department for Transport spokesman said: “We are continuing to work on the decision around the the national roll out of ‘smart motorways’ and an announcement will be made in due course.”