Where is it?
M6 junction 34. The crossing point of Britain's busiest north-south route, the M6, and Lancaster's main road striking eastwards. It's now the most used exit from the M6 for Lancaster.
This junction has been rebuilt to accommodate the A683 Lancaster Northern Bypass since it first entered Bad Junctions. The layout described below ceased to operate in 2016.
What's wrong with it?
It's simply not up to motorway standards. On and off sliproads merge into one single-carriageway road shortly after leaving the M6's main carriageway and continue around some very sharp curves to end on a set of traffic lights on the A683. It's all too easy for some clueless motorist to go the wrong side of a traffic island and end up driving the wrong way along the M6. As if the junction design wasn't bad enough, it's also very very busy, which makes it all the more dangerous.
Why is it wrong?
There's actually a very good reason for this. When this section of the M6 was built and opened, there was a junction at either end of the Lancaster Bypass to access the town, but these were 11 miles apart and each missed the town itself by about 6 miles. Lancashire County Council was worried that emergency vehicles would be unable to reach the M6 quickly enough because of the long round trip involved, and paid for a set of gated access roads from the A683 to be built for emergency services to use. Because these were "works access" points, they were designed well below standards. When it became clear that Lancaster needed a junction nearer the town centre, the emergency access point was signed as a full junction, the gates removed, and junction 34 as we know it came into being.
What would be better?
Widen the slip roads to be dual carriageways (one lane each way with hard shoulders is enough, as long as they are separated as per motorway standards) and replace the traffic lights at each end with a roundabout. The tight corners should be signed very, very well and an advisory speed limit applied.
Right to reply
As a regular user of the M6 north and south for the past 15 years I find that if I am travelling north I always use the Carnforth junction (J35).
It may add 15 minutes to your journey for most but it cuts out the risk of being plunged into the river Lune by a large lorry or slammed into the side by a non attention paying, underskilled driver who hasn't got the forsight to move out into the middle lane.
When traveling south most have to take the gamble, including me, when entering the motorway at J34 but at least there is a field to be rammed into rather than the river.
When travelling back from the south I find that the junction sliproad is too short, proof being in the amount of chevrons that are damaged and replaced, and the recent introduction of flexible ones, which now mean they don't stop you if you are going too fast, but you plough into anyone getting on the motorway going north.
I hope the introduction of the northern bypass, which includes the redevelopment of this junction, will make Lancaster drivers feel safer getting on and off at this junction.
Having lived in Lancaster for some time now I am all too aware of the dangers of the slip road on to the M6 north. The main problems are as others have pointed out; the slower, cautious driver attempting to get on to the motorway at less than 50mph (I've seen some drivers stop at the end of the slip road to wait for a reasonable gap to get onto the first lane!) and the empty head driver travelling north in the first lane who fails to acknowledge the slip road and adjoining traffic at all. Until this junction is structurally rectified it would seem reasonable to consider closing the first lane to traffic immediately after the exit to Lancaster 500 yards earlier. This would require all traffic to enter into the second and third lanes for say 600 or 800 yards and thus allow traffic to enter the motorway from the slip road without fear of being rammed by traffic from the rear.
There is actually a plan to completely rebuild this junction if the proposed Heysham - M6 Link Road is built. This road would link from the current Morecambe Bypass, where it crosses the main Morecambe-Lancaster road, to a point about 500 yards north of the existing J34. At that point there will be a roundabout with a northbound entry slip road, and then a link road down to the A683, where another roundabout will be sited, and a new northbound exit slip will be built on the south side of the roundabout. The southbound slips will apparently be replaced with a new larger parclo.
I have measured the on-slip for heading north using Google Earth and you have approximately 70m before you hit the Lune Bridge (no hard shoulder). Compare this to a junction near me, Leyland, where heading north, you have at least 270m and even then you've got the bonus of the hard shoulder.
I join your other correspondents in condemning access from A683 northwards onto M6 at j34: it is most dangerous and often made worse by impatient cars tailgating the more cautious driver on the slip road waiting for a slot in the motorway traffic. There is also danger to M6 traffic travelling southwards, wishing to leave at A683. The count down markers are immediately followed by absence of the hard shoulder at the overbridge. Although it is not permitted to use the hard shoulder when exiting, its sudden absence must be disconcerting to many drivers.
What I presume to be the official reasons for this ghastly junction seem a bit disingenuous. I find it hardly credible that j35 was intended as the northern access to Lancaster. Its route would have taken traffic through Carnforth, Bolton-le Sands, Hest Bank, and over Skerton Bridge, the then only crossing of the River Lune. Similarly, I am surprised that a gated access was proposed at the crossing of M6 and A683. We should remember that when this bypass was opened, it was isolated from the motorway network, so carried little traffic. It comprised two, two lane carriageways, which were later converted to three lanes but the bridges, including crucially the Lune crossing, had not been designed to take a third lane. At all bridges, including the Lune crossing, hard shoulders had to be removed to make space for the extra lane. The problem caused by the dangerous northbound access is caused, quite simply by proximity of the Lune crossing, and failure to anticipate this problems by having made it too narrow. No amount of widening of slip roads and improved markings will overcome this problem.
The answer appeared in local public exhibitions by Lancashire County Council in 2001, when there was a big consultation exercise about whether the M6-Heysham link should be west or north of Lancaster. The county's solution, if the northern option succeeded was construction of a second Lune crossing, and a complete re-modelling of north and south access. This scheme was essentially adopted, and we hear that work may start in 2011.
A slight diversion from this account occurred when the long battle between the two M6-Heysham routes was at its bloodiest phase. Estimated costs of the two schemes had been publicised by the county, and of course, inclusion of the second river crossing produced a (marginal) advantage to the western route. I argued to Dept of Transport, that it was unfair to burden the northern (and now adopted) route with the whole of the cost of a bridge which was long overdue to alleviate a badly designed and sub-standard access. The Dept, while accepting that it was dangerous, simply argued that there were other priority junctions before Lancaster would have its turn. It is a sobering thought that had the northern route not been adopted, we would be suffering this awful intersection for years to come.
There are currently [July 2010] roadworks for communications upgrades that mean the left hand lane through Junction 34 is closed.
The northbound merge onto the M6 at present is a dream! Unfortunately, the actual M6 itself has suffered terribly from the loss of a lane which has killed off the idea of temporarily reducing the M6 to two lanes through the junction until the Lancaster-Heysham Bypass is connected up and the whole mess is rebuilt.
I work for a nearby coach company and it usually can be a rather exciting event going north onto the M6 at this junction with a coach! However, I agree with Bryn that lately with the re-instated upgrade works it has been a dream.... apart from the queues. Like a number of people in the area I just hope the Lancaster by-pass doesn't get cancelled so that the junction gets its much required re-modelling... eventually.
I find both entrances onto the M6 difficult and dangerous mainly due to the steep inclines away from the river crossing both ways. Joining a motoway at less than 30mph due to the tight turns, and then attempting to get up to speed uphill in a heavy vehicle is a complete nightmare.
In a year or so problems at this junction should be at an end. As part of the M6-Heysham link road, progress is well in hand remodelling J34 with the southbound slip being moved well south of the bridge, the northbound off slip also moving southward and aligning with a new northbound bridge. The northbound on-slip is moving north, away from the bridge. Much of the earthmoving has been done, and construction of the new bridge is in hand.
The deadly dangerous northbound exit and entry sliproads finally closed for good on Friday 22 July 2016 at 8pm to allow finishing works to take place on the new, straight and much longer northbound entry sliproad from Shefferlands Roundabout!
Surfacing of the new Lune West Crossing and the new northbound entry sliproad was well in progress on a recent visit and the latest HE Press Release gives the opening date for the four new slip roads at J34 as 6am on Monday 1st August, from which time and this awful junction can R.I.P. in "Bad Junctions Pugatory!"