DRIVERS will be able to experience the benefits of the biggest upgrade of the M6 in Cheshire from today, Monday.

Highways England has completed a £265 million project to add extra lanes and new technology to a 19-mile stretch between Crewe and Knutsford – the most significant change since the M6 opened in the county in 1963.

A fourth lane has been introduced in each direction, and 258 electronic signs, 104 traffic sensors and 70 CCTV cameras will help tackle congestion and improve journey times for 120,000 drivers every day.

The upgrade is the first of four smart motorway schemes to be finished that will increase the M6’s capacity by a third on 60 miles of the motorway between Coventry and Wigan.

Jim O’Sullivan, chief executive of Highways England, said: "We have delivered the biggest upgrade to the M6 since the motorway opened in Cheshire almost 60 years ago, and it will mean quicker and more reliable journeys for everyone from businesses making long-distance deliveries to commuters getting to and from work.

"Tens of thousands of drivers travel on the M6 between Crewe and Knutsford each day, making it one of the busiest stretches of motorway in the country, so the extra lanes and new technology will help make the M6 fit for the future."

The new overhead electronic signs will provide drivers with live information about their journeys, including changes in the speed limit, lane closures and incidents on the route.

Traffic sensors at the side of the motorway will also be used to automatically set variable speed limits to keep traffic moving, preventing tailbacks and stop-start conditions caused by sudden braking.

New CCTV cameras will provide extensive coverage of the motorway to help Highways England’s traffic officers and the emergency services respond quickly to incidents, with frequent emergency areas giving drivers a safe place to stop if they break down.

Statistics from the first week of operation of the stretch between Middlewich and Knutsford (junctions 18 to 19) show traffic was flowing at about 70mph for 22 hours each day, with the new variable speed limits also helping keep the motorway congestion-free during peak times.

Tatton MP Esther McVey visited Highways England’s North West regional control centre in Newton-le-Willows to find out more about how the new technology will help keep the motorway moving safely.

She said: “I visited the control centre to see for myself how the smart motorway will benefit and support Tatton residents and drivers.

“I was reassured that, even with the hard shoulder now being used as an extra lane, accidents and breakdowns can be attended to faster as a result of the smart motorway intelligence.”

Other improvements carried include resurfacing the route with a low-noise road surface, installing a concrete safety barrier to reduce the risk of vehicles crossing onto the opposite carriageway in collisions, and fitting 700 metres of noise barrier to reduce noise levels for people living near the motorway.

Highways England is reminding drivers getting used to the new four-lane motorway to keep left unless overtaking.