Route of first private motorway published: Drivers of cars to be charged about pounds 1.50

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THE ROUTE of Britain's first private motorway, the 27-mile Birmingham northern relief road, was published yesterday by the Department of Transport amid claims that it would do little to relieve congestion in the West Midlands.

Motorway Express, the company that won the right to build the pounds 500m motorway and run it for 50 years, hopes that the public inquiry into the route will start early next year.

The company says it will charge around pounds 1.50 (at 1990 prices) for a car and pounds 3 for a lorry when the road opens in 1998. This would be a flat fee, payable on exit for use of any length of the motorway. But prices could be varied, if the road starts to become congested.

A spokesman for Motorway Express, a joint venture between Trafalgar House and the Italian firm, Iritecna, said: 'Traffic will always have to be free-flowing. If it gets too busy, then we would increase prices. There may also be lower prices at non-peak times.' Motorists would be able to pay by electronic tags or by manual methods.

The route runs to the north of the M6, leaving it at junction 4 (Coleshill) east of Birmingham and rejoining it at junction 11 near Cannock. It aims to relieve this section of the M6, which has virtually reached saturation point. But Roger Higman, roads campaigner for Friends of the Earth, said: 'The road will take at most about 28,000 vehicles per day. Yet the busiest section of the M6 carried 131,000 vehicles daily in 1991 and the safe free-flow capacity of the M6 is only about 80,000. These figures show that even private road building won't reduce congestion on our motorways.'

FoE also complains that virtually the whole route is through green belt land and two Sites of Special Scientific Interest will be affected. Edmund King, of the RAC, said that the decision to seek private finance for the road had led to delays: 'This was originally part of the Government's road-building programme and would be up and running, if it had stayed in it.'

He said that similar attempts to get the private sector to finance a Birmingham-to-Manchester motorway had foundered because of the existence of a free alternative, the M6.

Last month, the Government published a consultation paper on plans to toll all Britain's motorways but, even if a scheme were accepted, it would be unlikely to come into force before the end of the century.