M6 Closure J4 - J6 Both Directions, West Midlands. Wednesday 10 May 2017

The M6 was fully closed north­bound from J4 – J6 and within J6 for south­bound traf­fic on the morn­ing of Wednes­day 10th May due to a well-publicised and widely reported police inci­dent at J6 (Spaghetti Junction/Gravelly Hill inter­change). The inci­dent led by Cen­tral Motor­way Police Group pre­sented a num­ber of chal­lenges to High­ways Eng­land to man­age the effect of the clo­sure for cus­tomers trav­el­ling through the West Midlands.

Events began at 06:16am when our West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre was noti­fied by Police of an inci­dent involv­ing a mem­ber of the pub­lic at J6 and they imme­di­ately set speed restric­tions approach­ing J6 for safety rea­sons. Shortly after, Police had brought traf­fic to a stop on the south­bound car­riage­way approach­ing J6 and dur­ing this time the inci­dent was located on CCTV by oper­a­tors. Imme­di­ately, given the loca­tion and time of day, staff at our West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre informed Birm­ing­ham City Coun­cil of the likely impact to the sur­round­ing area. Simul­ta­ne­ously, out on the road the M6 north­bound car­riage­way was also brought to a stop with traf­fic held just prior to J6.

Very shortly after our National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers work­ing at the National Traf­fic Infor­ma­tion Cen­tre in Birm­ing­ham were briefed and imme­di­ately began report­ing on events for stake­hold­ers and travel media. Tweets were quickly issued on the @HighwaysWMIDS regional twit­ter feed and events were pub­lished on trafficengland.com. By 06:40am the West Mid­lands Regional Con­trol Cen­tre Duty Oper­a­tions Man­ager was liais­ing with Police col­leagues and the deci­sion was taken to for­mally close the M6 north­bound from J5. Although the inci­dent was within J6 and both north­bound and south­bound traf­fic could have got onto the A38M into Birm­ing­ham, it was con­sid­ered that this could grid­lock the A38M with traf­fic wish­ing to turn and return from its Park Cir­cus junc­tion. Also events ahead may be vis­i­ble for north­bound traf­fic and there­fore could cause a risk of sec­ondary inci­dents due to motorists poten­tially being distracted.

As events unfolded, High­ways Eng­land had 6 (and later 7) Traf­fic Offi­cers units deployed and head­ing to a num­ber of loca­tions with a rolling road block being put into place from J4A – J5 to imple­ment the J5 clo­sure. From this point, traf­fic hav­ing to leave the M6 at J5 could fol­low the recog­nised hol­low cir­cle sym­bol diver­sion route tak­ing the A452, A47, A5127 to return to the Sal­ford Cir­cus, from where cus­tomers could re-join the M6 north­bound car­riage­way. For the oppo­site south­bound car­riage­way, traf­fic was able to leave the M6 freely at J6 to con­tinue to the Sal­ford Cir­cus round­about, or take the link road onto the A38M south­bound car­riage­way into Birm­ing­ham .This essen­tially meant that cus­tomers wish­ing to con­tinue jour­neys on the M6 south­bound had the option of at least turn­ing at the next A38M round­about (Park Cir­cus) to return
north­bound on the A38M where the link road from A38M north­bound to M6 south­bound remained unaf­fected by the clo­sure. Whilst motor­way queues were rapidly build­ing, crit­i­cally this kept the A38M south­bound route into Birm­ing­ham flow­ing rea­son­ably well.

With clo­sures now being put into place, our staff at the National Traf­fic Infor­ma­tion Cen­tre were now set­ting wider strate­gic Vari­able Mes­sage sig­nage inform­ing of long delays and the for­mal clo­sure of M6 J5 – J6 north­bound. In addi­tion the clo­sure and unfold­ing events were being pub­lished as head­lines on break­ing news on all High­ways Eng­land web­sites and mobile apps.

One of the dif­fi­cul­ties being encoun­tered from 06:30am to 07:30am was the releas­ing of traf­fic trapped by the inci­dent on the M6 north­bound car­riage­way between J5 – J6. Emer­gency Ser­vices includ­ing a num­ber of West Mid­lands Ambu­lance Crews and
West Mid­lands Fire Ser­vice vehi­cles were now in place at J6. High­ways Eng­land resources includ­ing Traf­fic Offi­cers and Con­trac­tor Crews oper­at­ing Inci­dent Sup­port Unit vehi­cles were now deployed. Trapped traf­fic was being per­mit­ted to leave at the J6 north­bound exit slip road onto the A38M, how­ever traf­fic was slow and given the vol­ume of traf­fic to be cleared, this was a long process. By 08:15am the West Mid­lands Region had esca­lated its response lev­els and brief­ings were now tak­ing place between stake­hold­ers and part­ners, includ­ing police to dis­cuss the on-going events and look ahead to fur­ther actions which may become necessary.

National Inci­dent Liai­son Offi­cers had been look­ing at the wider strate­gic impact and how traf­fic could be averted from head­ing into a grid­lock sit­u­a­tion. By 07:30 delays M6 north­bound were 60mins from J4 – J5 and south­bound from J8 – J6 was reach­ing a 90min delay for cus­tomers. The M6, M1, M40, M5 and other motor­ways were all sign­ing the delays and where pos­si­ble offer­ing alter­na­tive routes for cus­tomers, for exam­ple M40 north­bound traf­fic would have seen Vari­able Mes­sage Signs stat­ing “for North West use M42 (S) M5 (N)”. Break­ing News and Twit­ter feeds were also encour­ag­ing traf­fic to essen­tially use other routes.

As a mea­sure to ease the pres­sure on the M6 J5 – J6 diver­sion route a deci­sion was fur­ther taken before 08:00am to close the M6 north­bound from J4 – J6, this was taken to give traf­fic options to join the M42 and other routes to nav­i­gate into Birm­ing­ham, as opposed to join­ing the back of a long queue of slow and stand­ing traf­fic try­ing to leave the M6 at J5. This increased pres­sure on resources with a num­ber of rolling road blocks hav­ing to be under­taken to allow our con­trac­tors to install full clo­sures. Over the course of the next hour clo­sures were in place M6 south­bound, M6 north­bound at J5, M6 north­bound at J4, The M6 J4 north­bound entry slip road and addi­tion­ally both link roads from the M42 north and south­bound to the M6 northbound.

At 08:45am the wel­come news was received from Cen­tral Motor­way Police that the inci­dent was now over and clear­ance was given to High­ways Eng­land to com­mence work to remove road clo­sures. The first clo­sure removed was the M6 south­bound car­riage­way approach­ing J6. Traf­fic was held and clo­sures removed and by 09:10am the junc­tion was open and traf­fic flow­ing. Over the course of the next hour the 90mins delays steadily decreased as aver­age speeds improved. The next clo­sure to be removed was from the M6 J5 – J6 north­bound and again with a tem­po­rary hold of traf­fic as con­trac­tors vehi­cles removed the cones and cleared the carriageway.

The next chal­lenge for our Traf­fic Offi­cers was allow­ing traf­fic to fully clear north­bound approach­ing M6 J5 to then allow for a sweep from J4 – J5 to clear a num­ber of bro­ken down vehi­cles from live lanes, 1 HGV also had to be cleared. This had to be done prior to re-opening M6 J4 – J5 and this slightly delayed the re-opening of J4 to J5. By 10:40am the M6 north­bound was now fully open from J4 to J6. How­ever, all was not done, next pro­ceed­ing to clear the clo­sures on the M6 J4 north­bound entry slip road and then the link roads from the M42 north­bound and south­bound merg­ing onto the M6 north­bound carriageway.

Cru­cially, strate­gic objec­tives of aim­ing to keep Birmingham’s major routes clear and dis­perse strate­gic traf­fic from J5 and J4 as evenly as pos­si­ble had worked to a degree with delays not exceed­ing 90mins. Impor­tantly, M5 north­bound traf­fic flow­ing onto the M6 had also been pro­tected, despite some queues on its link road to the M6 south­bound at J8. Later in the late morning/early after­noon how­ever, M42 delays did reg­is­ter from J6 to J9, due a heav­ier than usual traf­fic which had nat­u­rally avoided the M6 and War­wick­shire Police were prompted by High­ways Eng­land to attend J9 to con­trol traffic.

Dur­ing this inci­dent, diver­sion routes were dis­sem­i­nated via Twit­ter, High­ways Eng­land Break­ing News, reports to the media and elec­tronic Vari­able Mes­sage Signs above a num­ber of strate­gic routes to enable cus­tomers to make informed deci­sions about their jour­neys. High­ways Eng­land would like to thank cus­tomers for their patience through­out the dura­tion of this incident.