Highways Agency helping football fans

The Highways Agency is gearing up for a possibly huge cross-border invasion by Scottish football fans, together with a significant influx of supporters arriving at Manchester Airport next week.

Glasgow Rangers supporters will be heading to Manchester for their team's big UEFA Cup Final clash with Russian side Zenit St Petersburg at the City of Manchester Stadium on Wednesday (May 14).

And while the police are urging fans without tickets not to travel at all it is believed that as many as 100,000 Rangers fans could be heading south to the city and surrounding towns - many of them making the four hour journey by car, mini-bus or coach.

The Highways Agency is advising drivers heading for Manchester to use the M6 through Cumbria and Lancashire then the M61 and M60 into Greater Manchester.

Extra Highways Agency Traffic Officer patrols have now been drafted in to ensure any incidents which could foul the fans' trip are tackled as quickly as possible. Control room staff at the North West Regional Control Centre (NWRCC) will be setting signs advising drivers of the best routes as well as giving information on live road conditions. Special routes directing coaches to designated parking zones will be signed. The NWRCC will use CCTV to monitor traffic conditions on the motorways and answer any emergency calls about breakdowns or accidents along the route, to help keep traffic flowing smoothly.

Jamie Carr, Regional Operations Manager in charge of the North West Traffic Officer Service, said: "Large numbers of Rangers fans who do have tickets will be using the motorway network to get to Wednesday's big game. Obviously we do not know how many other fans will be travelling but we have had to plan for a significant increase in traffic over the build up to the game and after as people return to Scotland.

"We will be doing our bit to keep fans on the move smoothly and safely and we hope all the supporters will enjoy their special occasion on Wednesday night."

The Highways Agency has worked closely with other stakeholders including the police, Manchester City Council and Manchester Airport Authority to ensure a safe passage for both sets of supporters from the motorway network all the way to the ground and the large outdoor TV screens erected by the city council in central Manchester. There will be two sets of screens at Albert and Piccadilly Gardens which will show the match live.

The Highways Agency has rescheduled its planned maintenance works next week on the critical routes to keep the motorways as free flowing as possible.

However, vital upgrading of the A74 north of Carlisle linking the M6 to Scotland's M74 will remain in place with 50 mph speed restrictions through the works. This is one of the Highways Agency's major current projects and it is not practicable to suspend works.

While backing the police call on ticketless Rangers fans to stay at home, the Highways Agency is advising anyone determined to travel to plan their journeys - avoiding the rush hour around Manchester for example - and thinking about safety issues like taking regular breaks at the service stations.

David Grunwell, Regional Performance Manager in charge of the North West motorway and trunk road network, said: "We want all the fans visiting Manchester to enjoy this trip and the Highways Agency is working with police and other partners to ensure they do.

"But supporters can also help themselves. If they are driving down to Manchester then they should plan ahead, allow ample time and drive to conditions, taking regular breaks, ensuring their vehicles are mechanically fit and fully fuelled for such a long journey. They should also remember that the motorway hard shoulder should only be used in an emergency."