M1 remains the road to nowhere with chaos set to drag on for days

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The Independent Online

The chaos that plagued motorists at the weekend shows no sign of abating, as the main artery connecting London and the North still faces days of closure and delays after a fire on Friday.

A seven-mile stretch of the M1 was put out of action following a fire at a scrapyard under the motorway, disrupting journeys for thousands of people making their way to the capital for football or the London Marathon.

But the closure is worse than expected and is now due to continue throughout the week – disrupting trade, commuters and holiday traffic.

Yesterday two northbound lanes reopened and it was expected that one southbound lane would be back in use today but engineers have refused to be more optimistic, only saying that they "hoped" the motorway will be back in full three-lane use by the end of the week. Meanwhile, drivers have been told to avoid the M1 or to expect "significant delays".

"It's a huge disappointment," Paul Watters, the head of public affairs at the AA, said. "Clearly they've got more of a problem than they thought they had. I suspect people are working their socks off to get it reopened, but they can't be 100 per cent satisfied with their work when a major national motorway is shut for nearly a week."

The blaze, thought to have been arson, damaged one of the few raised sections of the motorway and forced the Highways Agency to close junctions 1-4. Firefighters set up a hazard zone because the yard was used to store gas cylinders. Eight fire engines and 40 firefighters were dispatched to the scene.

"The Highways Agency will have to consider whether it's safe to have scrapyards underneath these structures," Vicki Burn, a spokeswoman for the RAC, said. "They will need to work out what has to be done to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Mike Penning, a Transport minister, said the motorway would not fully reopen until later this week. "It is going to be a frustrating time," he said. "This is a pre-cast concrete bridge and the heat has damaged it so badly there are steel beams exposed that are part of the structure of the bridge.

"The hard shoulder was particularly badly damaged, and engineers were working to erect a structure under the affected part of the road to give it the stability needed to carry the weight of traffic.

"If people think the motorway is open tomorrow and we only have a couple of lanes, we will have congestion. So what I'm saying to people is, only use the M1 if you have to," Mr Penning said.