Junction 34M6 Junction 34

Below is a map of Junction 34 of the M6 the mid junction of the Lancaster Bypass. The junction was opened in 1960. I have seen two accounts of how this junction came into being. The first was that it was unplanned, however the emergency services felt that the 11 miles between what became junctions 33 & 35 was too long in the event of a major accident so this was built as a gated access, soon after opening the gates came off and it became a full junction. The second explanation was that this was a planned junction to access a nearby power station, that another junction was planned a couple of miles to the north to serve Lancaster and this would be a temporary access. There is properly some truth in both of these. In the event this junction has become a busy junction being the main junction for Lancaster on the southbound carriageway and for Morecambe and Heysham, Kirkby Lonsdale and the northern part of Lancaster on the northbound carriageway.

Whichever explanation is true this has turned out to be one of the worst designed junctions on the M6, with sharp curves on both sliproads, however the situation is worse than that the junction even after recent improvements is dangerous. Due to the motorway and A683 height and the proximity of the River Lune .

 

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The drawing to the left shows the topography of the junction, which is in the Lune valley is in a dip between two hills, the M6 crosses 4 bridges one for a minor road serving the nearby village of Halton, then the largest bridge over the Lune, a bridge over a old railway line that ran between Morecambe and Wennington now a path and finally a bridge over the A683.
 

Why does this make this junction so bad? A good motorway junction rises up from the motorway, the rise on coming off acts as a natural brake, while the descent on coming on helps acceleration, with this junction that arrangement was nearly impossible because of the terrain so it is in respect of inclines the wrong way round, traffic rises to get onto the motorway then has to continue to climb hindering acceleration, whist it falls on leaving the motorway thus not helping braking. However there is worse on this junction, traffic on leaving needs to brake for the sharp bends, whist these also impede acceleration on entry. But this is not all that is wrong with this junction.

 

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On the left is what happens most weekday mornings on the southbound carriageway. Traffic is queued to leave for Lancaster, waiting for the traffic lights at the junction of the slip road with the A683. Standing traffic spills onto the motorway, anything coming fast along the nearside lane needs to either brake or overtake, a mistimed braking could cause the vehicle to run into the back of the standing traffic or mistimed overtaking could cause an accident with a vehicle in the centre lane. However there is worse to come with this junction. The very short entry onto the M6 northbound caused by the proximity of the Lune Viaduct. Each green rectangle represents a vehicle, on a quite motorway first of all one car approaches up the slip road and manages to get onto the M6 carriageway, The movie below shows what could happen because of however notice what happens as a second car comes up the sliproad on what is now a busy M6:-
 

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The driver of the joining car miss times his enter misjudging a gap in the lane one traffic. Traffic in lane one try to avoid the car but with nowhere to go with lanes 2 and 3 full of traffic an accident is inevitable. Even if the driver had not misjudged the traffic under these busy conditions on the M6 he would have to stop, risking traffic behind watching the M6 rather than the lane in front running into the back of him and causing either a minor 2 car accident or shunting the front car onto the M6 carriageway, with the resulting carnage. A further problem is caused when a car has to stop on the slip road, any gap in the traffic needs to be long enough for the car to accelerate up to motorway speeds, the driver always risks being hit from behind before he can reach a reasonable speed, what make this worse is the fact that all the way from the A683 and onto the M6 the road is climbing thus hindering acceleration.

 

There are two possible solutions to this, the first I would view as a temporary one that of taking the 1st lane off onto the slip road and continuing with 2 lanes until the slip road comes in as a third lane giving traffic a chance to accelerate. The better solution would be to extend the slip lane over the Lune and possibly a little way up the hill giving drivers a chance to accelerate and join the M6 at a reasonable speed.

There is currently a plan to bring a new road from Heysham to this junction, including a second bridge over the Lune which would mean that northbound traffic would join the M6 further north and would eliminate the dangerous part of the junction (see the video).