It was the day Lancashire came to a halt.
Hundreds of motorists stranded for hours following an early morning crash which brought the county’s roads to a grinding stop.
As the impact carries on to today, politicians and business leaders say the chaos - sparked after a lorry ploughed into a low level bridge near junction 32 of the M6 - proved our highways network are “not fit for purpose”.
The HGV collided with, then got wedged beneath, a low level bridge between Broughton and Galgate yesterday morning, closing the highway in both directions for more than 24 hours – causing hours and miles of delays from Preston and Garstang to Leyland and Chorley.
The driver escaped relatively unscathed.
“It just brings home the amount of traffic using the M6,” said Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle. “But when something goes wrong on any major road it’s the impact it has on others; whether they’re going to work or on holiday.
“And this is compounded with the reduction in trains with the reduced timetable operating. So the [transport] alternatives aren’t there when crises like this happen.”
The crash caused hours of delays, with the northbound carriageway remaining closed overnight.
One Lancashire paramedic, Alan Swain, even took to Twitter to talkabout his two-hour “nightmare” ambulance journey from Chorley to Preston A&E.
Earlier in the day, police handed out water bottles to motorists stranded on the motorway for hours in sweltering temperatures.
Highways chiefs fearbridge is at risk of collapsing once the trapped vehicle is removed and a temporary prop put in place.
Alan Welsh, policy manager and office administrator at the Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, added that “there are no easy solutions” but echoed Sir Lindsay’s dismay at a lack of transport choice when accidents happen.
Mr Welsh said: “There are no easy solutions to traffic congestion and by and large, traffic flows reasonably well through Lancashire unless there is a major incident. Unfortunately these incidents are becoming more prevalent as the amount of traffic on our roads increases.
“It also highlights the lack of choice faced by commuters and businesses alike should they seek to use other modes of transport.
“Recent problems on the rail network have been well documented and many people have experienced reduced services on their local bus routes, which puts added pressure on the road network.”
Sir Lindsay added that with incidents like yesterday’s, “safety does come first”, but questions should be asked to do all that can be done to get traffic flowing.
He said: “Safety does come first, but it always seems a long time from when an accident happens to getting [the highway] reopened.
“I wonder what can be done to ensure that safety is paramount but also what priority is given to reopening roads that are closed.
“In this case with the bridge structure, why is it we don’t have engineers more quickly on site?
“Can temporary supports be put in place to get it reopened? It’s about teams ready to move in quickly.”
Sir Lindsay added: “As we know there is a works entrance between Broughton and Galgate - could that be brought into use? There’s a lot of questions that need to be asked.
“Diversions also need to be put in quickly rather than letting traffic find its own way.”
Mr Welsh added: “Significantly more investment is required in order to transform our road, rail, sea and air connections to help drive long term economic growth across Lancashire and the North.
“Our region is way behind the South East on infrastructure spending and the government must ensure that Transport for the North gets the necessary funding required to deliver its Strategic Transport Plan and the Northern Powerhouse Rail programme over the next 30 years.
“It is crucial that schemes such as HS2 are delivered as quickly as possible and that the HS2 route is extended through Lancashire and beyond.”
Yesterday evening Phil Stockford, emergency planning manager for Highways England in the north west, said it is hoped the motorway would be open by 9am, with drivers avoiding this section of the M6 “if at all possible”.
Plans are currently under way to increase the road capacity in and around Preston.
A 1.3km dual carriageway is being built as part of the City Deal to take traffic off the A59 and around the centre of Penwortham, which has been suffering severe congestion for years. The first phase of the construction is almost complete, as well as its link with the Broad Oak roundabout on the A582 Golden Way.
Experts expect up to 70 per cent of traffic - some 22,000 vehicles - passing through Penwortham will transfer to the bypass, ending nightmare daily jams. Last month John McKeever, principal engineer for LCC’s City Deal Delivery Team, said: “Construction is going very well.”
The 24 hour closure of the M6 between Broughton and Galgate has renewed calls to bring a new junction on the M6 in central Lancashire.
Chorley MP Sir Lindsay Hoyle has repeatedly called for a new junction for Chorley due to daily congestion woes at junction 28 for Leyland or 27 for Standish – both miles from the town itself, causing further congestion on the roads into Chorley.
Sir Lindsay said: “For a major town with more growth not to have a direct link onto the M6 also adds to the burden.
“Traffic has got to go further up to go back, which clogs even more roads.”
Easing congestion towards the coast
One daily congestion problem is the bottle necking of traffic on the A59 into Preston – used by many in South Ribble, Chorley, and Southport as the closest gateway to Blackpool and the Fylde Coast.
Lancashire County Council is asking the Government for £250m to build a new bridge over the River Ribble so that traffic can bypass Preston on a more direct route; something that has been backed by the likes of South Ribble MP Seema Kennedy.
Marcus Hudson, planning manager at Lancashire County Council, said: “A new Ribble crossing would complete the western distributor road network between the M55 near Bartle and the M65 at Cuerden, comprising our proposals for a Preston Western Distributor, Penwortham Bypass and A582 improvements.
“This would provide substantial relief to Preston’s road network in and around Riversway in particular, with its strategic and economic benefits to the wider region extending across central Lancashire and the Fylde coast.”
The county council also writes that it could enable a further 15,000 new homes to be built across central Lancashire, Fylde, Wyre, and West Lancashire.