M6 junction 21a to 26 smart motorway

We're improving the 10-mile section of the M6 between junctions 21a and 26 by upgrading it to an 'all-lane running' smart motorway.

Start date January - March 2021
End date 2022-23
Cost £100 million - £250 million

Latest updates

  • 21 December 2021

    December progress update and winter newsletter

    Winter newsletter

    Click here to view our winter newsletter.

    Progress update

    The temporary safety barriers, narrow lanes and a reduced 50mph speed limit are now fully in place between junctions 21a to 26 of the M6. Installing these measures allows us to keep the traffic flowing in both directions, maintain capacity, while still allowing us the safe space we need to work.

    Between junctions 24 and 26, we’ve finished replacing all the deep drainage and the surface water drainage in the central reservation.

    Between junctions 21a and 24, we’re continuing to remove all the old street lighting, metal barriers, and signs. We’re also preparing the area ready to start work to install the deep drainage.

    What’s next

    We’ve started installing the concrete safety barrier in the central reservation between junctions 24 and 26. This type of barrier is designed to last 50 years, and requires very little maintenance.

    Once we’ve finished installing the new concrete barrier in the new year, we plan to change the layout of our traffic management between junctions 24 and 26. This will entail switching our working area from the central reservation to the verges. We will update the webpage to let you know when this is happening. Please register for updates on our webpage to receive a notification.

    Christmas period

    As we approach Christmas, we’ll be finishing off as much work as possible. Our work sites will close from Monday 20 December, before returning on Tuesday 4 January 2022. The speed restrictions, narrow lanes and temporary barriers will remain in place for your safety. All three lanes will be open at all times. CCTV and a free recovery service will be available for the safety of motorists travelling through the area.

    If you have any enquiries during this period, please contact our 24-hour Customer Contact Centre on 0300 123 5000. Or you can email at info@highwaysengland.co.uk.

    We’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  • 22 October 2021

    Progress update, ground investigation work and planned closures

    Since our last update, the 10-miles of narrow lanes between junctions 21a and 26 are now in place, where we will continue our work within central reservation and verge areas. This will include:

    • removing existing street lighting columns, safety barrier and signage
    • installing new drainage system

    Over the coming weeks, some ground investigation work is also planned between junction 21a and 23. These are to assess the ground conditions, for work to install the ducts and cables in the future.  To carry out the ground investigation work safely, we plan to have the following closures in place between 9pm and 6am:

    • Monday 25 October – M6 southbound between junctions 22 to 21a
    • Tuesday 26 October – M6 northbound at junction 23
    • Wednesday 27 October – M6 northbound between junctions 21a to 22
    • Thursday 28 October – M6 northbound between junctions 22 and 23
    • Tuesday 2 November – M6 southbound between junctions 23 and 22
    • Monday 15 and Tuesday 16 November – M6 southbound between junctions 23 and 22
    • Wednesday 17 and 18 November – M6 northbound between junctions 21a to 22

    Signed diversion routes will be in place, and for more information see diversion routes maps below.

  • 13 September 2021

    Next phase of traffic management and summer newsletter

    In April, we installed our first phase of traffic management between junctions 24 and 26. Later this month, we’re planning to close sections of the M6 between junctions 21a and 24 to install the next phase of traffic management along the remaining 5 mile section of the project. This will include temporary safety barriers, narrow lanes and a reduced 50mph speed limit.

    Installing these measures allows us to keep the traffic flowing in both directions, maintain capacity, while still allowing us the safe space we need to work. We kindly ask everyone to be extra cautious when travelling through our roadworks, and thank you for your continued patience.

    The overnight closures, between 9pm and 6am, will be in place on the following dates:

    Monday 20 September - M6 southbound junctions 24 to 23
    Tuesday 21 September - M6 northbound junctions 23 to 24
    Wednesday 22 September - M6 southbound junctions 23 to 22
    Thursday 23 September - M6 northbound junctions 22 to 23
    Friday 24 September - M6 southbound junctions 22 to 21a
    Monday 27 September - M6 northbound junctions 21a to 22

    Signed diversion routes will be in place for each closure.

    To find out what else is happening on the project, view the summer newsletter here.

  • 02 June 2021

    Progress update and upcoming full closures

    What’s next?
    We’ve removed most of the steel safety barrier and streetlights in the central reservation between junctions 24 and 26.

    After this, we plan to carry out drainage work and then later install a concrete barrier. We will continue to remove old signs and other redundant items as well. We will undertake these works during the day when we can.

    Full closures
    We need to close the M6 between junctions 23 and 26 to carry out some work safely. This will include removing street lights and communication cabinets from the verge areas, removing existing signs and preparing areas for new signs.

    The closures will be in place on the following dates:

    • M6 northbound between junctions 23 and 26 – 7 to 12 June
    • M6 southbound between junctions 26 and 23 – 14 to 19 June

    We plan to have the closures in place between 9pm and 6am. This is subject to traffic flows, and will only be installed when this is at a minimum.

    Localised signed diversion routes will be in place (see ‘Diversions’ tab below). Please note that that the A49 Warrington Road at Worsley Menses in Wigan will be closed overnight from the 7 June for five nights. Following our approved and signed diversion route will ensure motorists are not affected by this closure.

    Noisy activity on site
    The work to remove the existing sign and preparing the areas for the new signs can be noisy. Nearby residents may also notice some vibrations from our work at these times.

    We will take steps to carry out the work as early in our shifts as possible. Nonetheless, we understand this will cause some disruption and would like to apologise for any inconvenience this may cause you.

    Please note our work is subject to weather conditions, therefore dates may change at short notice.

  • 30 April 2021

    Removal of steel barrier and street lights has started

    We’ve finished installing the narrowed lanes and temporarily lowered the speed limit between junction 23 and 26 of the M6. This allows us to safely work in the central reservation between junctions 24 and 26. Our work will include removing the old steel barrier, street lights, install new drainage and a new concrete barrier. The new barrier will reduce future maintenance and therefore disruption to motorists and residents. 

    We will start to remove the steel barrier from the 4 May for around a week. Most of the barrier will be removed during the day, but there are some areas where we need to remove parts of the barrier overnight. To remove the barrier safely, overnight lane closures will be in place between 9pm and 6am.

    Work to remove the street lights is planned from the 10 May for around three weeks. At the beginning, the noisier activities will take place. When we take down the lights this shouldn’t cause any disturbance. However, there may be occasions where we need to cut them down. Overnight lane closures are also needed to take down the street lights in the central reservation safely. 

    We will then move on to remove the existing signs and start to prepare the bases for the new signs.

    It is possible that our work will create some noise disruption for local residents. We will take steps to minimise any overnight disturbance and carry out as much work as possible during the day. Where we need any lane or full closures on the motorway we can only do this at night when the motorway is less busy. We thank you for bearing with us and apologise for any disturbance our work may cause you.

  • 23 March 2021

    Main construction has started and project newsletter now available

    The main construction work has now started, and we expect to complete the work by spring 2023.

    We’ve listened to the feedback from our customers, and as a result the work will be done in phases, starting from junction 24 to junction 26. This will reduce the length of roadworks in place, minimising potential disruption to journeys.

    For the safety of road users and our workforce we will need to use some traffic management measures. This will include narrowed lanes with a reduced speed limit.

    Motorway closures
    To install the narrowed lanes, overnight closures (from 9pm until 6am) are required on both carriageways of the M6 between junctions 23 and 26 on the following dates:

    • M6 southbound between junctions 26 to 23: Tuesday 6, Thursday 8 and Wednesday 14 April
    • M6 northbound between junctions 23 to 26: Wednesday 7, Friday 9 and Tuesday 13 April

    There are plans of the diversion routes we will be using in the overview section of this page.

    Read our newsletter to find out more on what is planned next and how to sign up for future updates.

    Virtual public information exhibition
    You can still visit our virtual Public Information Exhibition. This site contains information about both the scheme itself and the use of smart motorways. It will be available until we have finished our works in 2023. 

  • 08 February 2021

    Start of main construction work

    The M6 junction 21a at Croft to 26 at Orrell is a 10-mile-long project that is part of our programme to add capacity to the motorway network. The upgrade will reduce congestion levels and smooth traffic flows, providing more reliable journey times.

    Late last year we began clearing vegetation in the motorway verges between junctions 24 and 26. We are now also carrying out other works including manhole strengthening, mine treatment works and test piling overnight in the same area.

    We’ll be starting the main construction work on the project in March 2021. We expect to complete our main construction work by March 2023.

    Construction will inevitably have some impact on road users, the local community and businesses.

    We have listened to customers regarding the disruption that is caused by carrying out works on the whole length of a scheme at one time. To reduce the impact on road users we will be installing 5 miles of narrow lanes only between junctions 24 and 26 whilst we carry out our works in this area. We will maintain three narrowed lanes running in each direction during the day.

    There will be a reduced speed limit of 50mph throughout our roadworks. Where possible, and it is safe to do so, such as over Easter and Christmas holiday breaks, we will increase this to 60mph.

    These measures are being put in place to allow road users to continue travelling through our roadworks without compromising their safety, or that of our workforce. We expect that the average journey time will only increase by a maximum of 2 minutes during our roadworks.

    Wherever possible, we’re carrying out the noisier operations during the day to reduce disturbance on communities. There is however some work that we can only do at night time which cannot be carried out safely with traffic using the road. We’ll therefore need to use occasional overnight closures of the motorway to complete certain activities. We will keep closures to an absolute minimum in order to cause the least disruption possible.

    When closures are required details will be advertised on Traffic England, sent to stakeholders via email and hard signage will be placed on the affected section of road at least 14 days in advance. Clearly signed diversions will be in place.

    We’ll also operate a 24/7 free recovery service throughout our roadworks with a fully monitored CCTV system in place so that we can quickly identify and remove any stranded vehicles that have broken down within our work area.

    Public Information Event

    Throughout the two years of construction work we will be hosting an online Public Information Event. 

    We will be hosting live chats on this virtual event so that you can ask questions of the project team on the following dates:

    • Friday 19 February, noon to 2pm
    • Sunday 21 February, 2pm to 4pm
    • Monday 22 February, 10am to noon

    View our exhibition and join the live chats

  • 13 January 2021

    Advance works between junctions 24 and 26

    We have now started some work in advance of our main upgrade which will be starting in late March. This early work is taking place between junctions 24 and 26.

    Over the next few months we will be carrying out vegetation clearance, treating old mine works, strengthening manholes on the hard shoulder and preparing the foundations for sign and gantry bases.

    To carry out this work we will need to cone off areas of the hard shoulder as we work during the day. At night time we will also need to close lanes and, on occasion, slip roads to allow us to carry out our work safely. Where we need to close slip roads we will give advance notice by placing signs on the slip road at least 14 days in advance. Information will also be on Traffic England and all diversion routes will be clearly signed.

    We’re continuing with construction work during the lockdown, ensuring that all of our work is taking place in accordance with Covid safety guidelines.   

    We will be holding a virtual Public Information Exhibition in late February to provide you with information about the motorway upgrade. Full details will be provided on this webpage soon. You can subscribe to receive email alerts when we update the webpage.

  • 24 December 2020

    Consultation now closed

    Our consultation on the introduction of Variable Mandatory Speed Limits as part of this project has now closed.

    We’ll be providing an update on the project in the new year, as well as publishing a summary report of the responses we received to the consultation. You can subscribe for alerts for when we update this webpage.

  • 25 November 2020

    Variable mandatory speed limits consultation

    We’ve launched a consultation to seek your views on the introduction of variable mandatory speed limits on the M6 between junctions 21a and 26.

    Respond to our consultation.

    We would like to encourage any organisations, businesses or individuals affected by these proposals to contact us by responding to this consultation.

     You can respond to the consultation by completing our online response form, linked above.

    Alternatively, you can complete the consultation response form (located in Appendix B of the Consultation Document) and return it to us by email or by post using the addresses below. Please include ‘M6 J21a-26 smart motorway statutory instrument consultation’ in the title of the email, and mark it for the attention of Agnes Usciak.

     Please ensure that your response reaches us by 23 December 2020.

     Email: M6J21a-26SmartMotorway@highwaysengland.co.uk  

     Post: Agnes Usciak, Highways England, 2 Colmore Square, Birmingham, B4 6BN

    Environmental Assessment Report

    We’ve also published our ‘Environmental Assessment Report’ for the project, which you can find under the Project background tab in the documents section of this webpage.

  • 19 November 2020

    Updated scheme delivery dates

    In early 2019, we announced that we would be delaying the M6 junctions 21a to 26 scheme. This was to reduce the impact on drivers caused by multiple roadwork projects taking place in the region at the same time.

    We can now confirm that we plan to start construction work on the project in March 2021, and we expect to complete the scheme by spring 2023.

    We’ll be sharing more information in the coming months, so don’t forget to sign up to receive email alerts when we update this webpage.

  • 14 May 2019

    Waiting for announcement

    We'll announce a new start date for this scheme in due course.

    Contact Us

    If you need to contact us about the M6 junction 21a to 26 smart motorways scheme, please use the details below:

  • 14 May 2019

    Changes to M6 junction 21a to 26 scheme

    In winter 2019 – based on feedback from our customers and stakeholders of their experiences on our network – we announced changes to our smart motorway programme across the north-west to reduce the impact of concurrent roadworks on our customers.

    This means we've agreed to defer the start date of the M6 junction 21a to 26 scheme.

Project information

Give us your feedback

Visit our M6 junction 21a to 26 feedback tool to have your say. The tool includes an interactive map. You can click on a location to make a specific comment, or give us your general feedback.

ECHO is a one-way feedback tool, so if you’d like a response to your feedback you can email the project team at: m6j21a-26smartmotorway@highwaysengland.co.uk

Map showing location of M6 junction 21a to 26 scheme

The M6 forms part of the London to north-west and Scotland strategic corridor, and the wider trans-European route, E05. The M6 between junctions 21a and 26 is a key strategic route carrying around 120,000 vehicles daily between Lancashire, Merseyside, Cheshire and Greater Manchester. 

Congestion and unreliable journey times are currently experienced at busy periods and traffic is predicted to grow. 

The M6 junction 21a to 26 smart motorway scheme will relieve congestion and smooth the flow of traffic, improving safety and journey times. 

Smart motorways are a technology-driven approach to tackling the most congested parts of the motorway network, improving journey reliability by controlling the flow and speed of traffic. They also support the economy by providing much-needed capacity on the busiest motorways, while maintaining safety for road users and those who work on the roads. 

The design features of the scheme include: 

  • Converting the hard shoulder into a permanent traffic lane 
  • variable mandatory speed limits 
  • driver information, including lane availability, provided through a mixture of gantries and cantilever signs 
  • queue detection and automatic signalling system, which provides queue protection and congestion management 
  • comprehensive low light pan-tilt-zoom CCTV coverage 
  • emergency areas where drivers can stop in an emergency 

With this scheme, we aim to: 

  • reduce congestion and smooth the flow of traffic to improve travel times, making journeys more reliable 
  • support the economy and facilitate economic growth within the region. Providing much needed capacity on the motorway will reduce the cost of economic delay to both commuters and business traffic 
  • continue to deliver a high level of safety performance on the network using smart motorway techniques 
  • minimise environmental impacts 

M6 northbound junction 24 to junction 26

M6 southbound junction 26 to junction 23

M6 northbound junction 23 to 26

M6 southbound junction 25 to 23

M6 junction 23 northbound entry slip road closure

M6 southbound to M62 westbound link road closure

M6 southbound to M62 westbound link road closure

M62 eastbound to M6 southbound link road closure

M62 westbound to M6 southbound link road closure

M6 southbound junctions 24 to 23 closure

M6 southbound junctions 23 to 22 closure

M6 junction 22 northbound entry slip road closure

M6 junction 22 southbound entry slip road closure

M6 junction 23 southbound entry slip road closure


Traffic information

Information about scheduled roadworks and events on our motorways and major roads.

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