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Drivers facing M25 closure chaos told to ‘decorate the bathroom or something’ by National Highways

“Avoid travelling completely or find something to do at home: decorate the bathroom or something” – so says Jonathan Wade, senior project manager for National Highways, ahead of the first weekend closure of the M25.

The unprecedented shutdown of the jam-prone circuit is being talked about locally as “carmaggedon”, with 100 vehicles per minute potentially jostling for space with weekend shoppers.

London’s orbital motorway will shut in both directions between junctions 10 and 11 in Surrey from 9pm on Friday 15 March to 6am on Monday 18 March while improvement work is carried out “to make journeys safer and improve traffic flow”.

Junction 10 is the key intersection on the southwest quadrant of the motorway, where the M25 meets the A3 to Guildford and Portsmouth.

Up the junction: The M25-A3 intersection where much of the work will take place during the closure from 15 to 18 March (PA)
Up the junction: The M25-A3 intersection where much of the work will take place during the closure from 15 to 18 March (PA)

Normally up to 6,000 vehicles per hour – or 100 cars, coaches and trucks per minute – would use the five-mile stretch of the M25 at weekends.

M25 closures - live: Drivers warned of ‘carmageddon’ as junction works to bring major delays

National Highways has prescribed a diversionary route that more than doubles the five-mile distance between the two junctions and meanders through suburban shopping areas such as West Byfleet.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent’s daily travel podcast, Mr Wade said the M25-A3 junction, designed in the 1980s, “simply cannot handle the volume of traffic that it’s currently being asked to to handle”.

He said: “There’s unfortunately a very high collision rate.”

To reduce congestion and the number of accidents, National Highways is increasing the number of lanes. To enable this to happen, a bridge must be demolished.

Mr Wade said an overnight closure would not permit enough time to remove the bridge. “Neither can we just partially demolish it and come back the following night, because we can’t leave it in an unsafe condition with the risk of bits falling off it onto the traffic during the day. So this is one occasion, I’m afraid, where we really don’t have any choice.

“It’s not going to be a particularly pretty picture over the coming weekend: there aren’t any immediately obvious diversionary routes. Please, if you can, either avoid travelling completely or find something to do at home – decorate the bathroom or something, or play in the garden.

“If you must go, travel by train, walk, use a bicycle. I don’t mind, really, what you do. Avoid driving anywhere around those diversionary routes around Painshill, Byfleet, West Byfleet on on the eastern side of Woking. It will be in your interest.”

National Highways is urging motorists to ignore their satnavs if the devices recommend alternative routes. The fear is that an entire area of north Surrey could become gridlocked.

Mr Wade vowed that the planned reopening at 6am on Monday would happen. “If in the very early stages, we see things for any reason not going to plan, we have the ability to pull the later stages.

“It’s going to be bad enough closing the M25 for a Saturday and Sunday. The idea that it should still be closed even at 6am on a Monday morning doesn’t bear thinking about. So we have that ability to stop later stages of the work.

“I’m as confident as I can be that the M25 will be open no later than 6am.”

The Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden, Wisley, is very close to Junction 10. The society is telling prospective visitors: “RHS Garden Wisley will try to remain open as normal throughout and we look forward to welcoming you.”

Coach operators are warning passengers of delays and curtailed routes.

National Express, which connects the UK’s two busiest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, will continue to run services, though a spokesperson said: “Delays are expected and customers are advised to allow plenty of time for their journey.”

Travellers can travel between the two airports by rail, with a single change of train at Farringdon in central London. The journey time is about 90 minutes.

The coming shutdown will be the first of five weekend closures of the M25 this year. National Highways will assess the effects of this weekend’s project before announcing future dates.

Listen to Simon Calder’s podcast on the M25 closure