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2020 / 2021 Edition

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The M6 Toll

Britain’s first every privately financed, built and operated toll road

Stretching from Rugby in the south to Carlisle and the Scottish borders in the north, the M6 motorway is one of the main arteries in England's transport infrastructure - a route of both national and local strategic importance. Yet where it passes through the West Midlands it is also one of the country's busiest roads, with some sections carrying 100% more traffic than they were designed for. As a result, congestion and delays have become a regular part of everyday life for travellers and commuters using the M6 and its link roads around Birmingham and Walsall, especially at peak times.

But in January 2004 much of this congestion should disappear literally overnight with the opening of the M6 Toll - Britain's first ever privately financed, built and operated toll road. Providing a congestion-free alternative for those road users not needing to access central Birmingham, this 44km dual three-lane motorway with hard shoulders will skirt around the northern and eastern edge of the West Midlands conurbation, branching off the existing M6 just north of junction 11 near Cannock and rejoining it close to junction 4 at Coleshill.

Over £70 million of funding for the road was secured two years ago by Midland Expressway Ltd (MEL), the private sector concessionaires responsible for the M6 Toll, and apart from an agreed government contribution for widening a common section of the M42, all costs and risks will be borne by MEL without recourse to government funds or guarantees. Once built, MEL will be responsible for the operation and maintenance of the road for a 50-year concession period, using the tolls collected both to repay their borrowings from Abbey National and the Bank of America, and to provide an element of profit.

In September 2000, following a brief 14-week tender period, MEL awarded the £485.5 million, 40-month design and build contract to CAMBBA, a four-way joint venture between Carillion, Alfred McAlpine, Balfour Beatty and AMEC. CAMBBA's guiding principle, in line with requirements from the extensive Pubic Inquiry, is to minimize the impact of the new road on the surrounding environment by keeping as much of the route as possible within cuttings and by adopting landscaping, planting and other mitigating measures in areas where low-level construction cannot be achieved.

Because of the length of the road, CAMBBA have split the project into four discrete sections, each of which has a team leader responsible for construction activity on that particular stretch. The four team leaders report to a project director who has overall responsibility for the contract, and who in turn reports to a board made up of representatives from each of the joint-venture companies. A detailed management plan has been established to ensure that the CAMBBA team operates in a fully integrated manner.

As well as the 44km of new motorway construction, CAMBBA are also responsible for widening part of the existing M42 motorway and creating a new interchange between the M6 and the M42. In addition, seven new junctions are being built where the M6 Toll crosses the existing road network, together with 57 new bridges, seven toll plazas with associated access tunnels, an operations management centre, three maintenance areas, and other varied structures along the route such as culverts and retaining walls.

According to CAMBBA, good progress has been achieved t o date, with work currently ahead of schedule for the targeted completion date of January 2004. Initial site clearance and fencing work began back in November 2000, with topsoil stripping commencing five months later in March 200 1 and major construction activity getting under way a month later in April. To date, some 7.2 million m3 of material (out of a total dig of 10.5 million m3) have been excavated, compared with a target volume of 5.2 million m3 for this point in time. In addition, work has progressed well on 44 of the 57 new bridges during the autumn and winter months, in order to free up many of the major constraints on the main phase of pavement construction.

A planning strategy for the production and use of cement-bound material (CBM) and pavement-quality (PQ) concrete was also developed during the winter. CBM work is scheduled to commence about now, with PQ concrete work beginning in August. The production and use of both materials will continue until summer 2003, by which time surfacing of the M6 Toll - which will require some 800,000 tonnes of asphalt - will be well under way. Finishing works (lighting, signs, road markings, barriers etc) will be completed during the latter part of 2003.

The project's enormous earthmoving requirements are being met entirely by Alfred McAlpine's plant arm, AMPL, who won the plant hire contract for the supply, operation and maintenance of mobile plant. Requiring an investment of £15 million, 193 machines (excavators, scrapers, loaders, dozers, dumpers, graders etc) are deployed on the project, 108 of which were supplied new by locally based Caterpillar dealers Finning.

To help minimize the impact of plant noise during construction, planning restrictions limit CAMBBA's hours of work on site to 7.00am to 7.00pm Monday to Friday, and from 8.00am to 1.00pm on Saturdays. A few exceptions are permitted including overnight traffic-management operations, some work on the M42, and essential railway work that has to be carried out during night-time track possessions. Once the road opens, earth mounding, fencing and the M6 Toll's low-noise asphalt surface will help minimize traffic noise.

In two areas of the project the pace of the earthmoving work is being carefully coordinated with processing requirements, as all the sand and gravel excavated along the route is being reused in the construction work as fill material, as graded and crushed stone for CBM production, or as washed and screened premium aggregate for use in PQ and structural concrete. This will reduce the need for imported quarried products and minimize the disposal of waste materials, which will save some 400,000 lorry journeys during the course of the project.

In order to maintain the required balance of materials, the cut and fill volumes are recalculated and adjusted by CAMBBA on a regular basis. As a contingency measure, any potential temporary shortfalls are covered by a series of planning applications for borrow pits. Of the 9.2 million m3 of excavated material available for reuse, some 7.5 million m3 will be used as fill for the construction of earth mounds and embankments, while the bulk of the remaining 1.7 million m3 will be processed for use in premium products.

The washing and screening of materials, and their subsequent stockpiling and load out, is the responsibility of Coventry-based Powerscreen Washing Systems, who have set up their main processing plant at Hanson Aggregates' Weeford Quarry. This is immediately situated adjacent to the Weeford cut, the largest excavation on the M6 Toll route and the source of the majority of material for processing. CAMBBA intend to work out in both directions from Weeford, with concrete batching plants being set up at various locations along the route as and when required.

The Weeford plant has already produced around 330,000 tonnes of premium aggregates (40mm, 20mm and 10mm single sizes, together with medium-grade concrete sand and BS 1200 building sand) and a further l. l million tonnes are scheduled to be produced over the next 14 months. Another, smaller processing plant has also been established at Middle Hill, near the northern end of the road.

The land acquired for the M6 Toll has been strictly restricted to that essential for the motorway construction and its associated landscaping, and although nature conservation value along the route is generally considered to be low, both MEL and CAMBBA are committed to minimizing the effects of their operations on the environment.

From the outset, teams of ecologists helped CAMBBA's surveyors to mark out a route that would cause the least possible impact on the existing ecology. Areas of special scientific interest, such as badger setts, nature conservation areas, ponds and watercourses, and bat roosts, were identified and ring-fenced at an early stage to provide additional protection during construction.

Where ecologically valuable sites are directly affected by the construction work, specific measures have been undertaken to reduce the impact, including hedge and heathland translocation, heather harvesting, and various schemes to protect water voles, otters, newts and other rare flora and fauna.

Agricultural land loss has also been restricted to that considered essential for construction and associated planting or mounding. Some 1 million trees covering a total area of 4,430,000m2 will be planted along the route and, where practical, mounds will be shaped to allow agricultural operations to resume after construction.

CAMBBA are also responsible for all archaeological work at the site, and a joint venture between two of the country's leading archaeological organizations - the Oxford Archaeological Unit and Wessex Archaeology - was formed especially for the project to help preserve the cultural heritage of the area. Their investigations began with a study of the M6 Toll route to identify sites for detailed examination in advance of construction work, and they continue to have a watching brief as work progresses.

Around 40 separate sites have now been investigated, resulting in finds spanning 10,000 years of history from the Stone Age to the Industrial Revolution. A number of these sites are the first of their kind in the region and among the most important discoveries ever made in the West Midlands. They include the remains of both Iron Age and Roman farms near Sutton Coldfield; a Roman cemetery at Wall, near Lichfield; and a medieval fish farm at Wishaw, near the Belfry. Numerous artifacts from the various excavations have been removed from the site for further analysis and will later be returned to local museums for public display.

M6 Toll – key events

1980 - Proposals for a new publicly funded motorway
1984 - Consultation on five route options
1986 - Announcement of the preferred route
1988 - Public Inquiry
1989 - Announcement that the road will be built by the private sector (proposals invited)
1991 - Midland Expressway Ltd (MEL) announced as the preferred concessionaires
1992 - Contract signed by the Government and MEL
1994 - Public Inquiry
1995 - Public Inquiry ends
1997 - Final go-ahead from the Government
1997 - Orders made for the scheme
1997 - Application for Judicial Review and challenge to the Orders
1998 - Challenges cleared to allow the scheme to proceed
1999 - MEL sign contracts for the financing of the road
2000 - CAMBBA joint venture awarded the contract to design and build the road
2000 - Initial site clearance begins
2001 - Major construction activity begins
2001 - M6 Toll - official name announced
2004 - Completion and opening of the M6 Toll.

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