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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 11:38 GMT
M6 Toll road opens
One of the first users of the M6 Toll paying at a booth
Car drivers must pay 2 to use the new road
The UK's first toll motorway is being used by fee-paying motorists after it was officially opened on Tuesday.

The barriers at the M6 Toll booths were raised for the first time at 1010 GMT after a ribbon-cutting ceremony at which Transport Secretary Alistair Darling was the guest of honour.

Motorists now have the chance to avoid congestion in the West Midlands by paying 2 to drive along the 27-mile route, formerly known as the Birmingham Northern Relief Road.

The project will support the arguments of those who favour tolls to tackle congestion nationwide if it proves to be a success.

After the opening ceremony, Mr Darling told BBC News 24 that the M6 Toll gives motorists more options.

"What this road is doing is firstly providing much needed additional capacity in the West Midlands, but it also gives drivers a choice.

Map of the M6 Toll
The road has cost nearly 900m
"They don't have to use the toll road, but it's there if they want it.

"At 2 a car, I think many drivers may decide that, for the journey time, it would be something worth doing - I certainly would.

"Anyone who's used the M6 at peak times will know it can get very, very congested.

"But I think it is useful that people can choose whether or not to pay it."

The junctions with minor roads will opened on Tuesday morning and will be followed on Friday by the southern link to the M6 motorway.

The best advertisement for us is the M6 at the moment
MEL managing director Tom Fanning

By Saturday, the new motorway should be fully open.

The road's operator Midland Expressway Ltd (MEL) revealed last month that the 900 million highway project would be subject to a phased opening over a five-day period.

Managing director Tom Fanning told a news conference at the firm's headquarters in Weeford, Staffordshire, last month that opening the road was a very complex process and that motorists' safety must be paramount.

Just hours before the road was due to open on Tuesday, Mr Fanning told BBC News it would be an "early Christmas present for motorists".

'Free-flowing'

"It is exceptional value for money - 2 is the price of a cup of coffee," he said.

Mr Fanning told BBC News 180,000 vehicles were currently using the existing M6, although it had been designed to cope with only 72,000.

Transport Secretary Alistair Darling preparing to open the M6 Toll
Alistair Darling said he would pay to use the road
"We are a specific solution to a specific problem - the best advertisement for us is the M6 at the moment," he added.

Use of the road - which is billed as offering a free-flowing alternative to the existing M6 - will initially be restricted to local motorists joining the route from Lichfield, Tamworth, Sutton Coldfield, Brownhills and Cannock.

MEL has been granted a 53-year concession to operate and maintain the M6 Toll, which will link junctions four and 11 of the M6.

MEL announced plans in May to levy a standard charge of 2 for cars, 5 for vans and 10 for lorries.

The operator claims the M6 Toll will save motorists approximately 45 minutes on an average journey time by avoiding the heavily-congested section of the M6 north of Birmingham.

About 140 staff have been employed on the toll route and a fleet of gritters and maintenance vehicles are standing by to help keep it running.




WATCH AND LISTEN
Alistair Darling MP, Transport Secretary
"I do think choice for motorists is something we want to encourage"


The BBC's Simon Montague
"27 miles of tarmac designed to clear one of Britain's worst bottlenecks"



VOTE RESULTS
Would you pay motorway tolls?
Yes
63%
No
37%
28416 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

Vote now closed


SEE ALSO:
A long and winding road
09 Dec 03  |  West Midlands
Head to head: M6 toll road
09 Dec 03  |  UK
M6 Toll time draws near
18 Nov 03  |  Staffordshire
Toll road director quits
10 May 03  |  West Midlands
Road toll levy announced
06 May 03  |  England
Most drivers 'would pay tolls'
17 May 02  |  UK News
Road tolls 'inevitable'
02 May 02  |  UK News


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