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New Variable Speed Limit system to begin on M4 motorway in Wales

The Welsh Assembly Government’s Deputy First Minister, Ieuan Wyn Jones, has announced a new and innovative scheme that will make driving conditions safer and lead to more reliable journey times for motorway users in the principality. A new Variable Speed Limit (VSL) system is due to commence from March 8 on part of the M4 around Newport. Similar projects on the M25 and M42 in England, as part of the Highways Agency’s Controlled Motorway system, have proved beneficial, greatly improving traffic flow and the safety of road users. On the M4 in Wales, it is expected that the reduction of accidents and increase of the flow of traffic in controlled sections will lead to savings of £40 million (US$65 million) over a 30-year period.

VSL uses sensors in the road to detect traffic starting to build up that could cause congestion. If this happens, the mandatory speed limit will be automatically adjusted, in order to keep traffic flowing. Changes to the speed limit will be displayed to drivers via overhead electronic variable message signs (VMS) mounted on gantries. The mandatory 70mph (113mph) national speed limit will apply during normal free-flowing traffic conditions. During any period that the mandatory speed limit is reduced, the limit will also be shown on ‘repeater’ signs located on the verge. These verge-mounted signs eliminate the need to install a larger number of full-sized gantries spanning the motorway, providing the same information to the driver at a fraction of the cost. The signs are mounted on supports, which allow them to be rotated and lowered for maintenance, avoiding the need for disruptive and costly motorway closures. Additional motorway signs, known as MS4s, have also been installed as part of the scheme. These display both text and pictograms, enabling advance warning to drivers of any incidents that lie ahead.

The initiative aims to develop motorway capacity and smooth traffic flow over the 12.8km (eight mile) stretch between Junctions 24 and 28 of the M4. It will do so by reducing congestion, the number of accidents and heavy braking, which will simultaneously increase driver safety and improve the surrounding air quality, which is an important benefit to local residents. It is intended that VSL will be fully operational by June 2011, on completion of the separate project to install a concrete central reservation barrier east of Brynglas Tunnel. Wyn Jones stated the importance of the VSL scheme for Wales, saying, “Part of our long term transport strategy is to encourage future, long-term inward investment, growth and jobs. To do this we need a road network that runs smoothly. The VSL scheme on the M4 will help achieve this commitment by using new technologies to tackle current problems on the road, which will in turn deliver economic and social benefits. Ultimately, it will improve connectivity for Wales and this is essential to the economy. It will not only make for better traveling now, but will also encourage more sustainable travelling in the future.”

March 4, 2011

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