Advertisement

Miles of gridlock as stretch of M25 closed for first time ever

Motorists have suffered gridlock in Surrey as a result of the first ever closure of a stretch of the M25 since the motorway circling London was completed in 1986.

Cars were backed up for at least two miles on Britain’s busiest motorway in the run-up to the five-mile closure between Junctions 10 and 11, National Highways said shortly before lunchtime on Saturday.

Meanwhile, monitoring by Inrix suggested that there were around six miles of queues spanning more than half the length of the 11.5-mile official diversion route through Byfleet, West Byfleet, Woking and Ottershaw.

An information sign as traffic builds up in Cobham, Surrey, near to a closed section of the M25 (PA)
An information sign as traffic builds up in Cobham, Surrey, near to a closed section of the M25 (PA)

However, National Highways South East estimated that the average journey time along the diversion route was 25 minutes, assuring drivers of minimal congestion – despite having strongly urged them to avoid driving if necessary.

And the motorway stretch became something of a tourism hotspot, as locals stopped to marvel at the emptiness of the highway after decades of ceaseless traffic.

“It’s absolutely astonishing,” Simon Vassallo, who has lived in the area for 35 years, told The Independent. He was out early “to stock up on provisions” ahead of the traffic building up. “When we came across the bridge this morning, we just had to stop, take a few pictures and take in the marvel that is an empty M25.”

Another local man, Terry Craig from West Byfleet, said: “It’s quite extraordinary to see the motorway, all of these lanes, just shut off. It’s incredible. Apart from Covid, I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like this.”

The M25 normally carries between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicles in each direction every hour from 10am until 9pm at weekends between Junctions 9 and 11. This includes many airline passengers travelling to, from and between the UK’s two busiest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick.

Work is taking place on the section of the M25 between Junctions 10 and 11 (PA)
Work is taking place on the section of the M25 between Junctions 10 and 11 (PA)

But National Highways insisted that the weekend-long shutdown – from 9pm on Friday until 6am on Monday – was necessary to enable a bridge to be demolished and a new gantry to be installed, in what is reported to have been a particularly accident-prone section of road.

Modelling carried out while the plans were being developed estimated that drivers would face delays of up to five hours without mitigation measures such as urging drivers to stay away and creating diversion routes.

National Highways claimed that only around 60 minutes would be added to journeys because of the steps it had taken – a calculation based on a reduction in traffic of 50 per cent.

But project lead Jonathan Wade said: “Because it’s so unprecedented, we’ve got nothing to benchmark it against.” He added: “There’s never been a closure of this nature. We really can’t be certain how many people will heed the messages which we’ve given.

“It’s very difficult to determine right now how effective all our traffic management will be. Please don’t travel if you can avoid it.”

Vehicles are seen queueing to leave the carriageway at Junction 10 of the London orbital motorway (AFP via Getty)
Vehicles are seen queueing to leave the carriageway at Junction 10 of the London orbital motorway (AFP via Getty)

Daryl Jordan, of Woking Borough Council, warned that residents would be “affected massively”, adding: “It’s going to be a nightmare.” Motoring experts had warned that official estimates of congestion levels could be “optimistic”.

And the South East Coast Ambulance Service, which covers Surrey, urged drivers to clear the way for ambulances ahead of a “challenging weekend” for crews.

Business owners in areas along the diversion route told of cuts they had made to their services in anticipation of traffic problems.

Mark Pollak, the owner of Billy Tong, which caters for events and sells biltong at markets, said he expected to see 50 per cent of the firm’s turnover for the weekend go “down the drain”. He said he had had to refuse a request to cater an event in Guildford, and had been forced to cancel a stall at Surbiton Farmers’ Market over fears of a jam-up on the roads.

Four more daytime closures of the M25 will take place between now and September.

The project, due to be completed in summer 2025, will increase the number of lanes at junction 10, which is one of the UK’s busiest motorway junctions.

Additional reporting by PA