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Civils firms slam hard shoulder M-way plan

Contractors see cheap traffic-easing scheme as an end to major motorway lane-addition roadworks

CONTRACTORS are furious over Government plans to allow drivers to use the hard shoulder of motorways to ease traffic congestion.

The Highways Agency scheme, which will be piloted on the M42 outside Birmingham, will avoid the need for the motorway to be widened.

But civil engineering contractors are up in arms about the plans, which will bring a significant fall in workload.

One industry source said: 'I think road building is reaching the end of its life. There has been a real decline in the industry in the past 10 years.

'We used to see a lot more work up for grabs. Now they are just looking for ways to get people off the roads and stop building new roads. This hard shoulder idea is just another way of cutting costs.'

Hard shoulders can be converted for use by traffic in only two years, compared with up to 10 years to plan and construct lanes.

New overhead gantries tell drivers when to use the lanes and emergency laybys known as refuges are included to deal with broken-down vehicles. The cost of converting hard shoulders is one fifth of new lane construction.

Highways Agency spokesman Anthony Ashton said: 'There is no denying it is the cheaper option but, just as the Highways Agency is committed to building new roads, we are also committed to car pool lanes and other schemes.

We believe in packaged measures to cut congestion.'

For the next month drivers will be directed to use the hard shoulder in a pilot scheme on an 11-mile stretch of the M42.

This road was modified by Birse Civils in 2005. The Highways Agency has already indicated that it is looking at plans to modify other lengths of road, including sections of the M6.

The industry source added: 'Building a new stretch of road incorporates many things, including knocking down bridges as well as major traffic management schemes, all of which make road widening a lucrative industry.

'Building these new gantries will be cheaper and will probably be good news for the smaller contractors. It will not help the big contractors though, which are set to lose a lot of work.'