4 April 2006
EXCLUSIVE: THE SPYWAY
EXCLUSIVE 100 speed cameras, 276 CCTV sites and hundreds of sensors used to manage 10 miles of motorway
By Rod Chaytor And Victoria Bone
BIG Brother is helping to beat congestion and cut down on accidents on one of Britain's busiest stretches of motorways.
The £100million hi-tech surveillance scheme offers a glimpse into the future of 21st century traffic management.
It includes 100 speed cameras, 276 CCTV sites and hundreds of electronic road sensors to monitor traffic flow and improve the life of the motorist.
The revolutionary equipment allows controllers to vary speed limits, open up lanes and redirect drivers after a crash.
More than 54 new gantries are fitted with the gadgetry between junctions 3A and seven of the M42 around Birmingham.
Twelve carry eight speed cameras, four pointing in each direction, to monitor all six lanes plus the hard shoulders.
A thirteenth has four covering the one-way M40-M42 link road.
The CCTV registers every number plate to see when cars join and leave the motorway and how long each journey takes.
In all, FOUR different kinds of camera watch around 125,000 motorists every day. The Highways Agency said: "It's definitely the most heavily monitored section of motorway in the country with more cameras than anywhere else.
"The combination of cutting-edge tools will make this stretch of the M42 the most responsive in England to the needs of motorists."
Overhead information boards warn drivers well in advance of accidents, jams and lane closures to reduce last minute snarl-ups. Road sensors every 100 metres send up-to-the minute data on traffic volume to a manned control centre in Birmingham so when levels rise operators can flash up temporary speed restrictions to slow traffic down and improve flow.
But most revolutionary of all is the hard shoulder running system which allows the extra lane to be opened in heavy congestion.
This is designed to keep drivers moving, cutting down on frustration and avoiding gridlock.
And safer emergency refuge areas have been introduced with updated telephones, sensors to alert rescuers to a vehicle's location and CCTV to cut down on roadside crime. Although the speed cameras were switched on last November, no fines have yet been issued but the Highways Agency warned: "When they are there will be no further warnings and not even a flash.
"There will just be a letter in the post for a £60 fine and three points on your licence, thank you very much.
"Thousands of motorists are going to be caught out until word gets round." But motor industry expert Professor Garel Rhys yesterday blasted the cameras as "dangerous" and a "scandalous waste of public money".
He said: "Drivers become aware of them and slam on the brakes to avoid a fine."
There was fury among drivers two years ago when traffic chiefs installed 12 temporary speed cameras on the same stretch of road as work on the scheme began.
Running total boards showed more than 120,000 motorists were nabbed in just 10 weeks but after drivers said they had collectively forked out more than £7.2million in fines, they were hastily taken down.