Did it really cause traffic chaos?

By | March 17, 2024

M25 diversion March 2024 2

The M25 is completely closed between junctions 10 and 11

The first ever planned complete closure of part of the M25, Britain’s busiest motorway, had led to warnings of traffic chaos this weekend. Intrigued to know how South West London’s infrastructure would cope with the potential chaos, we decided to pay it a visit.

On site at the M25 diversion: Saturday March 16

Concorde, the Intercity 125 and the M25 motorway. Three icons of British transport, but only the last is still heavily used by the public. The aircraft did not survive long after the turn of the century, and the train was relegated to regional use rather than the cross-country routes it was intended for. However, the use of the highway has not changed; unlike the others, it simply cannot afford to do so.

Whether you’re heading into the city itself or desperately trying to avoid it, there’s no escaping the M25. London and the surrounding areas have only become more densely populated since the motorway was completed in 1986, and traffic has only grown with it. The latest statistics from the Ministry of Transport show that despite this Because the M25 was designed to transport 88,000 vehicles daily, by 2022 it was carrying as many as 204,000 vehicles per 24-hour cycle.

As poorly surfaced, overcrowded and generally heartbreaking as the M25 is, the only thing more nightmarish for motorists is a world where it doesn’t exist. Everyone is thinking the same thing the day before the first ever full weekend closure of part of the M25 – between Wisley and Chertsey in Surrey, to allow an old bridge to be demolished and a new gantry installed: this is going to be a glimpse into pure, unadulterated car hell.

March 2024 M25 diversion mapMarch 2024 M25 diversion map

March 2024 M25 diversion map

There are no peak times on this section of the M25, known as the South West Quarter. It just starts around 6am and doesn’t subside for the next 12 hours. Unusual for a highway, 78% of drivers on the SWQ come from or are traveling to a relatively nearby location. Public transport on the routes these journeys would normally take does not exist on the border, and there are simply no other major roads to take pressure off the highway.

It is also not the case that you can just build a new main road; virtually every piece of vacant land in the area is legally protected, underground tunnels would be prohibitively expensive and no one wants their house bulldozed for a highway.

Normally on a weekend, between 4,000 and 6,000 cars each way would use this 7.8-mile, eight-lane section of highway. Instead – if they follow the official diversion as requested – they are sent on a magical 11-mile mystery tour through the sleepier parts of Surrey, taking in both the former Brooklands circuit and the McLaren headquarters just outside Woking in the sight crawl. .

After the first half kilometer on the A3, the diversion route consists exclusively of single-lane roads, with numerous roundabouts, traffic lights and other bits of potentially obstructive street features that you certainly won’t encounter on a motorway. National Highways has issued an advisory to avoid the area like the plague, but locals and motorists alike are expecting Carmageddon.

Dacia Sandero drives past the M25 diversion signDacia Sandero drives past the M25 diversion sign

Dacia Sandero drives past the M25 diversion sign

I had been assigned as Autocar’s M25 chaos correspondent, but I didn’t fancy taking my car anywhere near the inevitable mess. So my plan was to become Byfleet’s nameless, full-suspension mountain bike guy, and dig out my bike for the first time in years so I could zoom past the inevitable endless miles of irate motorists. Executing my plan meant an early morning train ride from my home in Dorset. It was unexpectedly busy; Had people actually heeded the advice and sought alternative transport?

I get off the train at Byfleet & New Haw, about half a mile north of the diversion route, and head towards the A245, expecting it to be turned into a car park. Turn off the alley, go down the path towards the roundabout and… oh, everything’s fine.

Byfleet isn’t some dystopian vision of a cyberpunk future where public transportation is banned and people are forced to drive everywhere, leaving the streets choked with traffic – it’s just a small town with a road that could hardly be classified as busy as he goes through the middle of it. Of course there are more trucks than usual, but the road itself flows like any other Saturday morning.

M25 diversion traffic continuesM25 diversion traffic continues

M25 diversion traffic continues

The diversion route crosses an eerily deserted M25 – eight lanes of silence. Quite a few locals have cycled here to have a look at the empty motorway, and they share my disbelief that it is possible for the diversion route to be so quiet – especially as problems with the M25 tend to clog up their local roads .

Further on, the main street, West Byfleet – a traffic light-controlled intersection expected to become a huge bottleneck – flows as smoothly as normal. I speak to a few store owners, who are just as surprised about the whole thing as I am.

“I’ve canceled all our appointments for the day but I haven’t had any trouble with that,” said Ian Barnes, who runs Surrounds Art on the high street. “I was driving super early at 6am expecting pandemonium, but it was even quieter than normal. I think that’s because it was advertised so well and so far in advance.”

Tony Evans, who lives on a cul-de-sac leading to the diversion route, agrees with the sentiment. “We received a warning in advance. The bridge over the canal [on the route] was closed last week, but they made it clear that the work had to be completed on time, so we already have two months’ notice,” he says. Evans had is expected to be blocked, so set aside the weekend to polish up his classic Ford Thunderbird.

M25 diversion traffic continuesM25 diversion traffic continues

M25 diversion traffic continues

The minor traffic jams that do appear seem to be mainly the result of people trying to go against the flow, trying to turn onto side roads and into driveways. As I walk towards the intersection with the A3, the speed slows – Waze estimates traffic is moving at an average of 8 miles per hour – but it never stops completely. The other direction, towards Woking, is even clearer. What was expected to be a bottleneck for people on the bypass route and for those trying to enter the largest city in the area is surprisingly clear.

All in all, it is a successful diversionary maneuver. With advance notice and people actually listening to National Highways advice, it has turned out so much better than anyone expected. Of course, this wouldn’t be like this every day – many people have undoubtedly adjusted their plans to avoid hitting the road today – but it’s hard to argue that this has gone incredibly smoothly. Five more similar closures on the M25 are planned this year. I hope they are all like this.


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