M6 junction revamp and new traffic lights confirmed as part of Preston industrial estate plan

Major changes to the layout and operation of a busy road leading to the M6 in Preston have been given the green light.
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A redesign of Bluebell Way, on the approach to junction 31A of the motorway - the Preston East and Longridge exit - was demanded by highways bosses in order to accommodate the traffic expected to be generated by the expansion of a nearby industrial estate. New traffic lights will also be installed on another route in the vicinity.

The proposal for a dozen warehouse-style units and a new spine road to access them - on land at Roman Road Farm, off Longridge Road - had been held up for more than a year after National Highways raised concern over the potential impact of the scheme on the operation of the motorway junction, which is already beyond capacity.

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However, the organisation lifted its holding objection after the firm behind the plans - Henry Boot Barnfield (Roman Way) Limited - set out the works it would fund to offset the added traffic pressure that would be put on the Bluebell Way roundabout, from which the southbound M6 is accessed at the location.

Currently, there are only two lanes on Bluebell Way heading towards the roundabout junction, except for a short filter lane for M6 traffic, which starts shorly before the lightsCurrently, there are only two lanes on Bluebell Way heading towards the roundabout junction, except for a short filter lane for M6 traffic, which starts shorly before the lights
Currently, there are only two lanes on Bluebell Way heading towards the roundabout junction, except for a short filter lane for M6 traffic, which starts shorly before the lights
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The short existing stretch of left-turn lane for traffic entering the motorway at that point will be extended to become a full “auxiliary lane” - providing a greater degree of separation between M6-bound traffic and the other two lanes bound for the B6242, the first of which also provides access to the petrol station just off the roundabout.

National Highways - which is responsible for the motorway network and major A routes - noted in a consultation response to Preston City Council, that the overhaul was “in no way a comprehensive solution to the congestion experienced on the surrounding local network in this location”.

However, it acknowledged that the change would shorten queues on Bluebell Way eastbound by creating more “stacking space” in which vehicles could wait - and allow motorists to pass through the junction in less time. The city authority's planning committee gave the go-ahead to the industrial development, after the objection was dropped.

It's already a notorious spot for queues at peak timeIt's already a notorious spot for queues at peak time
It's already a notorious spot for queues at peak time
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The details of the design - which will include the removal of an off-highway bus stop bay and the incorporation of the stop into the live traffic lane - will have to be finalised with Lancashire County Council, as the highways authority responsible for Bluebell Way.

County Hall has also agreed to in-principle plans to install traffic lights on Longridge Road, where it meets Roman Way at the entrance to the Roman Way industrial estate - and the widening of the junction in the process.

Without that change, papers presented to the planning committee noted that there would be “high delays” for traffic leaving Roman Way - especially those wanting to turn right.

Committee member Harry Landless said that traffic in the area was already “terrible” - and that he could only foresee it getting worse.

The single-lane entry slip road to the M6 southbound at junction 31A (image: Google)The single-lane entry slip road to the M6 southbound at junction 31A (image: Google)
The single-lane entry slip road to the M6 southbound at junction 31A (image: Google)
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“This road is absolutely horrendous in the morning and late afternoon. If you try and get a bus from Longridge down into town, it takes an extra half hour [as] the bus is invariably delayed because of the traffic problems already caused by these industrial estates,” Cllr Landless said.

While stating that he would not “stand in the way” of the application, he bemoaned that in order for traffic impact to have “any influence on a planning decision, the road has to be at a complete standstill all day”.

END OF THE ROAD FOR PRESTON EAST’S INDUSTRIAL SITES?

National Highways' consultation response revealed that consideration had been given to an alternative scheme for the junction 31A roundabout which, in addition to the extra lane on the Bluebell Way, would have seen a second lane added to the M6 southbound entry slip road, which is currently single file.

Traffic lights are set for the Roman Way and Longridge Road junction (image: Google)Traffic lights are set for the Roman Way and Longridge Road junction (image: Google)
Traffic lights are set for the Roman Way and Longridge Road junction (image: Google)

However, that set-up would have required the two slip road lanes to merge with each other shortly before the resulting single lane then joined the main carriageway, as per the present layout - a scenario that National Highways assessed would likely have led to “vehicle collisions”.

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The only way around that would have been to maintain two lanes on the slip road all the way to the merger point with the southbound traffic - and that would have required a widening of the bridge which carries the M6 over Bluebell Way, which would have been so costly as to make the industrial estate proposal financially unviable.

National Highways also issued a warning about the deteriorating operation of the southbound M6 around junction 31A, with “slow-moving traffic at peak times” making it more difficult for vehicles to merge from the entry slip road.

That, the organisation said, meant it would not accept any future scheme that increases vehicle numbers and speeds on the slip route without “a commitment to fund upgrading works” to the merger with the main carriageway.

Pointing out that there is “little prospect” of junction 31A being substantially rebuilt in the foreseeable future - if ever - National Highways said that the situation called into question whether Preston East is any longer suitable for expansion as a strategic employment location. It suggested that the matter should be reviewed as part of the ongoing work to draw up the first ever Central Lancashire Local Plan.