Britain’s biggest concrete repair work is #madeinsandwell

Britain’s biggest concrete repair project is taking place in Sandwell – on the Oldbury Viaduct between junctions 1 and 2 of the M5.

Costing more than £100m, the M5 Oldbury work is believed to be the largest concrete repair project, by value, ever carried out in Britain.

The southbound carriageway on the M5. Image courtesy of Highways England
The southbound carriageway on the M5. Image courtesy of Highways England

It is also thought to be the largest scaffolding project in Europe, with more than 400 miles of scaffolding erected. That is, according to Highways England, enough scaffold boards to cover seven football pitches and enough scaffold staircases to reach the top of Ben Nevis and Snowdon.

The M5 is one of the UK’s busiest motorways, carrying a mix of traffic through the Midlands and onwards to the north and south. It’s one of the reasons Sandwell is such a convenient place to do business, and the section around Oldbury is particularly busy.

Oldbury viaduct carries around 1.8 miles of the elevated sections of the M5 to the west of Birmingham between junctions 1 and 2. Constructed from concrete in the late 1960s, it serves 120,000 vehicles a day. As the number of vehicles has increased, so has the amount of maintenance required to keep it safe and open to traffic. Now essential repair work to its waterproofing is necessary – a huge and complicated operation.

A statement on the Highways England website says: “By maintaining this key corridor we are delivering a huge investment that will support economic growth locally and in the wider West Midlands”.

To keep the motorway open during the work, a contraflow system is in place. Traffic is using the carriageway with only two lanes in each direction, and a 30mph speed limit.

This may seem frustrating, but it’s important to note that much of the work takes place underneath the viaduct. The workforce, of around 500 people, cannot always be seen.

Highways England also recognises that Oldbury is home to many small and large businesses, as well as leisure and shopping destinations, all relying on the road network. So the work has been planned to limit both the time the project takes and closures to roads.

A switch took place last week (beginning Monday 3 September) so that work could be transferred from the southbound to the northbound carriageway.

When the main concrete repairs are finished, the M5 will return to three narrow lanes in each direction so that final work, including central reservation upgrades, can take place.

Andrew Butterfield is Head of Service Delivery for Highways England.

“I appreciate it’s not been straightforward getting to this stage,” he said. “We were only able to fully assess the condition of the southbound carriageway once the work had started and found around 6,000 individual repairs were needed, which is 4,500 more than anticipated. To add to the challenges, we had one of the harshest winters, followed by warmest summers in years.

“As a result, work on this section has taken longer than expected, but we’re committing every resource available to get this work done as safely and quickly as possible.

“We understand the level of disruption this project involves, and we’d like to thank motorists, businesses and residents for their patience.”

During this time of disruption Highways England recommends that you consider:

* Planning ahead
* Allowing extra time for your journeys
* Using alternative routes
* Changing modes of transport
* Car sharing
* Working from home.

The work is expected to be completed in spring 2019. Here at Think Sandwell we’re looking forward to an even safer, more reliable road network connecting our vibrant borough to the rest of the country. We wish the workforce all the best in the meantime.

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