More than 100 miles of motorway in the north-west of England will be converted to all-lane running ‘smart motorways’ in a bid to cut congestion.

The region will see four new smart motorway projects begin in the coming 18 months, at a cost to the taxpayer of £500 million.

Under the smart motorway schemes, the stretches of the M6, M60 and M62 and M56 will use the hard shoulder as a permanent driving lane, although emergency refuge areas will be built at the edge of the road for vehicles that suffer a breakdown.

Highways England, which manages the motorway network, will use overhead gantries to control traffic, imposing speed limits enforced by average speed cameras and displaying red crosses over lanes that are closed for any reason.

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Work is already underway at several sites in the region, with the M6 being among the most high-profile. Work has already been completed on one stretch of the M60, and a 10-mile stretch of the M62 has also been finished.

However, work will begin on a nine-mile area of the M62 later this summer, when work on the M60 will also begin. And in the spring of next year, the M56 near Manchester Airport will also be converted to all-lane running, followed by the M62 between Rochdale and Brighouse.

Mike Bull, Highways England’s smart motorways programme manager for the North, said: ‘Smart motorways have been proven to be effective at tackling congestion, with the smart motorway on the M62 in West Yorkshire saving commuters an average of 30 minutes each week.

‘We’ll be starting work on four new smart motorways in the North West over the next 18 months and will do everything we can to keep disruption to a minimum, including only closing parts of the motorway overnight when traffic levels are much lower.

‘The North West’s new smart motorway routes will provide over 100 miles of extra lanes benefiting the hundreds of thousands of drivers who use our motorways every day for commuting, business and leisure.’

All-lane running is being used as a way of reducing traffic jams across the country, but it’s a contentious scheme that has met with some criticism.

In 2016, a Transport Select Committee report expressed concern that ‘the risks arising from converting the hard shoulder into a running lane are an unacceptable price to pay for such improvements’. The report also found ‘unacceptable’ misuse of the emergency refuge areas.

However, since then, Highways England has promised to install extra refuge areas on smart motorways.