Drivers face two miles of traffic during unprecedented M25 closure

By John Mercury March 17, 2024

Drivers are facing significant delays as a section of the M25 shuts in both directions this weekend in an unprecedented move.

Motorists saw two miles of congestion on the approach to the closure in Surrey this morning, as traffic builds along the main diversion route through Byfleet, West Byfleet, Woking and Ottershaw.

National Highways estimated that the average journey time along the diversion route on Saturday morning was 25 minutes.

The closure of a five-mile stretch between junctions 10 and 11 on the UK’s busiest motorway is already causing travel chaos – just hours into a two-and-a-half day closure.

Daryl Jordan, of Woking Borough Council, said residents will be “affected massively” by the closure, adding: “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

South East Coast Ambulance Service, which covers Surrey, also urged drivers to clear the way for ambulances ahead of a “challenging weekend” for crews.

But how long will the section be shut, where are the diversion routes and why is it happening?

Here’s everything you need to know.

When is the closure and how long will it last?

The closure started at 9pm on Friday 15 March and the section will be shut until 6am on Monday 18 March, covering the five-mile stretch between junction 10 and 11.

What is the diversion route?

Here’s the 11.5-mile diversion route that’s been outlined by National Highways, which maintains England’s motorways:

  • Junction 10 to junction 11: Northbound A3 to Painshill Junction, A245 towards Woking, and then A320 to M25 junction 11
  • Junction 11 to junction 10: A320 south towards Woking, A245 towards Byfleet and Painshill junction, Southbound A3 to junction 10.

You can see it on the map below:

A map showing the M25 closure and the diversion route
Map showing the M25 closure and the diversion route

And here are some Google Maps screenshots showing roads that are part of the diversion route:

M25 junction 10 towards A3 northbound
M25 junction 10 towards A3 northbound

A3 northbound towards Painshill junction
A3 northbound towards Painshill Junction

A245 towards Woking
A245 towards Woking

A320 towards M25 junction 11
A320 towards M25 junction 11

A320 towards M25 Junction 11
A320 towards M25 junction 11

Satnav warnings

Drivers are being urged to ignore satnavs and only follow official diversion routes to prevent causing gridlock during an “unprecedented” closure.

Jonathan Wade, National Highways project lead, said the amount of disruption will partly depend on whether drivers stick to official diversions.

“How many people are going to take the initiative and try and use satnavs?” he said.

“There’s probably a greater risk of congestion by people just doing their own thing and thinking they can perhaps beat the signs and find a shorter or quicker route.

“That will cause further congestion on some of the key junctions so please avoid doing that if at all possible.”

National Highways senior project manager Daniel Kittredge said: “If people move away from diversion routes that we prescribe, it creates additional issues in different parts of the road network.

“The majority of the time that will be local roads, so that really impacts residents in those particular areas.

“That’s why we’re trying to encourage people to not follow the satnav.

“Stick on the prescribed diversion route. It’s going to be more suitable for your journey.”

How bad could it be?

It’s the first scheduled daytime all-lanes shutdown on the M25 since it opened in 1986, so the full extent of possible delays is not yet known.

This section of the M25 normally carries between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicles in each direction per hour from 10am until 9pm at weekends, so the disruption caused by the works is expected to be significant.

More than 200,000 vehicles are expected to be affected, including many travelling in and out of London, and to and from Heathrow and Gatwick airports and Channel ports.

Business owners along the diversion route have said they were forced to make cuts to their services in anticipation of traffic.

Mark Pollak, owner of Billy Tong, which caters for events and sells biltong at markets, said he expects to see 50% of the firm’s turnover for the weekend go “down the drain”.

He said he had to refuse a request for Billy Tong to cater an event in Guildford and had to cancel its stall at Surbiton Farmers’ Market on Saturday, with staff not wanting to face expected traffic to get to jobs.

What advice has been issued?

“Drivers should only use the M25 if their journey is absolutely necessary,” said Mr Wade.

“This is the first of five full closures of one of the busiest junctions on our road network,” he added.

“We have spent months planning for these closures and making sure there are diversion routes in place, but there will still be heavy congestion and delays.”

‘Motorists should decorate the bathroom’

Mr Wade also advised motorists to find something to do at home like “decorate the bathroom” or “play in the garden” ahead of the closure.

He urged people to avoid travelling altogether.

“Avoid the area totally if you can,” he told The Independent’s daily travel podcast.

“Either avoid travelling completely or find something to do at home, decorate the bathroom or something, I don’t know, or play in the garden.

“If you must go, travel by train, walk, use your bicycle.

“If you can, avoid driving anywhere around those diversionary routes.”

Airport warnings

People due to travel to Gatwick and Heathrow could also be affected by the closure.

Heathrow Airport is advising passengers planning to use this part of the M25 to allow for extra time before their flight.

“Passengers using public transport should also be aware that The Airline (between Heathrow and Gatwick) and RailAir (RA2), will be running amended timetables over this weekend, please check with your operator for the latest information,” their statement said.

A London Gatwick Airport spokesperson told Sky News: “Passengers driving to the airport are advised to check diversion routes before they travel and allow extra time for potential delays.

“Gatwick’s train station is well-connected and is a great alternative option for people travelling to the airport this weekend.”

‘You ain’t seen nothing yet’

Steve Gooding, director of motoring research charity the RAC Foundation, said: “For drivers who’ve already had their patience tried by the queues at the junction 10 works, the phrase ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’ springs to mind.”

“National Highways’ plea for people to avoid driving in the area applies not just to trips on the M25, but also to those on surrounding local roads on to which the M25 traffic will be diverted,” he added.

“The hope must be that drivers take great care, however frustrating the delays and disruption might be.

“The last thing we need is shunts or crashes, however minor, because the slightest mishap will compound the misery.”

Other motoring experts have warned that official estimates of congestion levels may be “optimistic” while local councillors in areas where motorway traffic will be diverted are anticipating “gridlock”.

Read more from Sky News:
Luxury hotel offers free night’s stay if it rains too much
‘Absolutely gross’ maggots force flight to make U-turn

Why is it happening?

Government-owned company National Highways said the action is necessary to enable a bridge to be demolished and a new gantry to be installed as part of a £317m improvement project.

National Highways says the project will increase the number of lanes and make it easier to enter and exit the M25 at junction 10, which is one of the UK’s busiest and most dangerous motorway junctions.

“These improvements will bring long-term benefits to drivers who pass through this stretch of the M25, not to mention pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders who will also see positive changes in the area,” Mr Wade said.

Is the closure a one-off?

No – it’s just one of five planned full closures between the junctions. The other dates have not yet been confirmed.

“Three of those closures will be between junctions 10 and 11 – the A320 at Chertsey… and two of them will be between junction 9 at Leatherhead to junction 10 at Wisley,” Mr Wade said.

He said the dates of the later stages would be released in due course with motorists given plenty of notice.

“We will not just spring them on people,” he said, adding they would take place between May and December.

The project began in summer 2022 and is expected to last three years in total.


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