Express & Star

National Highways to be challenged after M6 closure leads to town gridlock

Council officers have been asked to challenge National Highways on their actions after an M6 closure led to Stafford becoming gridlocked.

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The entrance to the southbound M6 at junction 14 Stafford North. Photo: Google

The southbound section of the motorway between Junction 14 for Stafford North and 13 for Stafford South was shut for most of the day and overnight following a collision and significant diesel spillage on Tuesday.

Traffic was diverted through Stafford, via the A34 and A449 during the closure. But a section of the southbound A449 near the town centre was closed for pre-planned roadworks, meaning that other local routes were affected by a surge in traffic.

National Highways issued advice on Tuesday to affected motorists to listen to traffic reports and check their routes to avoid delays. They were also advised to follow a diversion from Junction 14 via the A34, avoiding the closed section of the A449 in the town centre and instead travelling along Silkmore Lane to join the open part of the A449 towards Junction 13, or consider leaving the M6 at Junction 15 and taking an alternative route from there.

But speaking at a county council meeting on Thursday, Councillor Ann Edgeller said: “Stafford roads were in absolute chaos on Tuesday due to the closure of the M6; loads of appointments missed, heavy goods vehicles going down roads with restrictions on. Highways England need to find a solution to this problem.

“It’s happening far too often -the people of Stafford are suffering and they’ve had enough. I’m no traffic engineer but we owe it to the people of Stafford to get some answers from Highways England as to how they solve the problem.

“Every time the junctions 14,13 or 12 are closed, Stafford comes to a standstill. Having said that, let’s give some thought to the people involved in the accident and wish them a speedy recovery.”

Councillor David Williams, cabinet member for highways and transport, responded: “The gridlock experienced in Stafford on Tuesday was obviously a frustrating experience for all. I would however like to be clear that when the works on the A449 were approved, National Highways were formally notified that their strategic diversion route will not be available to them and they would need to utilise other routes.

“Although you cannot stop individuals taking it upon themselves to divert through Stafford and ignore signs, it is my belief that National Highways failed to act upon this on Tuesday. Therefore I have asked officers to investigate and challenge National Highways on their decisions and actions.

“As members know, there are a number of major works taking place in Stafford at the moment, which if done one after another would spread the disruption over years – something we all wanted to avoid. Although the other works around the town didn’t help on Tuesday, the real problem was the closure of the A449 southbound, which we had clearly given National Highways early instructions this route was not available to them.

“Our residents however have been clear that they want their roads repaired and this council has invested an extra £50m to spend on roads over the next three years. Unfortunately, and with this level of improvement and repairs, comes a level of disruption.

“We therefore hope people can bear with us while we deliver their priorities. I will also remind Councillor Edgeller that unfortunately the A449 is a trunk road, so therefore will always be a diversionary route for the M6 when we are not working on it.”

A National Highways spokesperson said: “This was a serious and complex incident which forced the closure of the motorway.

“We work closely with local authorities and have agreed diversion routes in place should an emergency occur on our roads. In this instance, our primary route was affected by local roadworks which meant traffic having to use alternative roads while we, and our emergency services partners, dealt with the incident as quickly as possible.

“We are grateful to people for their patience while we did so. We appreciate that any road closure causes some disruption and would always urge drivers to follow the signed diversion routes and not their sat navs.”