The A601(M), which connects the M6 at junction 35 to the A6 north of Carnforth, would become an “all purpose” route under the plans – a move that it is estimated would save Lancashire County Council £26.9m in maintenance costs over a 30-year period.
Unusually, County Hall is the designated highways authority for the 1.3-mile stretch of road – whereas most motorways are the responsibility of the government agency National Highways.
The county council is to issue a so-called “revocation order”, which will require statutory approval from the Transport Secretary, and would open up the route to all classes of vehicle.
If granted, removal of motorway status from the A601(M) – which has two lanes running in each direction – means that the road would no longer have to be maintained to the strict criteria demanded for heavy traffic travelling at high speeds.
A shorter southern section of the motorway, which links the M6 to the B6254 Kellet Road, was downgraded in January 2020 and is now known as the B6601. Prior to that change, the stretch was one of only three motorways in the UK comprising just a single lane in both directions.
The reclassification of the remaining northern section was prompted when an assessment found that the five bridges along its length found that they were in need of significant work to ensure that they could remain in use. Back in 2019, the county council revealed that it could be forced to impose weight restrictions on the mini-motorway – sending heavy goods vehicles on a 21-mile diversion – or even close it altogether.
The authority has since received £15.9m from the government’s Transport Infrastructure Investment Fund – and last year allocated £9.2m from that pot to undertaking the bridge work on the A601(M). As part of the project, the Higher North Road Bridge will be removed altogether and replaced with a new junction.
Cabinet member for highways Charlie Edwards told the cabinet meeting where authorisation was granted to begin the procedure for changing the road’s status that it would lead to “a direct saving with no tangible disbenefit to residents”.
Objections to the proposal can be made by individuals and organisations during the minimum six-week period after publication of a draft revocation order before it is formally made. That could spark a public inquiry into the plans.
The northern section of the A601(M) was originally built as part of the M6 Lancaster Bypass, which opened in 1960. It retained its motorway designation even after the M6 was subsequently extended northwards towards Kendal and eventually Carlisle.
The already-downgraded southern section was constructed by the county council in 1987 and was designed to remove quarry traffic from Carnforth town centre.