The Telegraph 2024-03-17 01:00:37

Closed M25 becomes unlikely selfie spot amid fears of ‘carmageddon’

It was billed as potential “carmageddon” – the motorway closure that could cause Britain’s “worst traffic jam ever”.

Highways chiefs had for days warned of impending gridlock as the M25 closed between Junctions 10 and 11 between 9pm on Friday and 6am on Monday.

But when the London Orbital shut on Saturday for the first time during daylight hours since it opened in 1986, the most remarkable development was that it had become an unlikely tourist attraction.

For much of the day motorists were able to travel along A-roads through on the official 11.5-mile diversion in just 25 minutes, according to National Highways South East.

That proved a far cry from official warnings of one-hour delays and fears that these could actually end up spiralling closer to five hours.

Locals, so often used to the permanent humdrum of tyres on the tarmac along the eight-lane motorway, flocked to take selfies on the silent road.

“It’s absolutely astonishing,” said Simon Vassallo, who has lived in the area for 35 years and was out “to stock up on provisions” ahead of the feared tailbacks.

“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.”

Fiona and Patrick Potter, residents of West Byfleet, posed with smiles as they overlooked the brown asphalt ribbon stretching into the distance from the Parvis Road bridge.

So too did Terry Craig, another West Byfleet man, who told The Independent that the silence reminded him of the Covid lockdowns.

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

Amanda Boote, an independent councillor from Byfleet, hailed the sight as a “moment in history” and said birdsong proved a pleasant substitute for the usual purring whoosh of speeding cars.

“The traffic is starting to build up now but it was lovely overnight,” she told the BBC. “We could hear the birds singing and we all slept well.”

The scenes came after thousands of motorists had been braced for traffic chaos during the closure, which has seen a bridge demolished and a new gantry installed.

The RAC had warned that official estimates of congestion may prove “optimistic” given that the M25 usually carries between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicles in each direction every hour between Junctions 9 and 11 during weekend daytime.

National Highways had urged drivers to stick to the official diversion through Byfleet, West Byfleet, Woking and Ottershaw no matter how congested it became, fearing that those looking for a shortcut would end up paralysing single-track country lanes for miles.

There were tailbacks of up to five miles approaching the diversion at times during the day, but throughout Saturday motorists appeared to heed the organisation’s warnings to stay away from the area completely.

“People have heard the advice to steer clear since it’s been spoken about for the last couple of days on radio and TV,” an AA spokesman said. “People have probably gone, ‘You know what, it’s not worth it’.

“We hope people have heeded the warnings. No one wants to spend their Saturday stuck in traffic so they have probably made alternative arrangements and decided to steer clear.”

The spokesperson added that traffic could pick up again during peak times on Sunday.

Chelsea and West Ham United, two of London’s biggest football clubs, are both playing at home.

But what will please highway chiefs most is that the works which necessitated the motorway’s closure were progressing on time on Saturday night, with little prospect of the section’s reopening being delayed beyond Monday morning’s rush hour.

Drone footage captured the bridge being demolished by midday and workmen soon set about installing the large gantry that will temporarily take its place.

£317 million engineering works will see the M25 closed between Junctions 10 and 11 a further four times between now and September.

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

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