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

  • 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


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 junction 23 to 26

M6 junction 25 to 23


Traffic information

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

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