This week saw the launch of the latest stretch of 'smart motorway' on the M6 near Birmingham. The aim of the stretch _ which makes greater use of available technology _ is to improve the journeys of those in the area by reducing the amount of congestion. The opening of the new stretch came in time for the Easter weekend, and came through the opening of the hard shoulder to traffic during the road's busiest hours between junctions 5 and 8. It marks a milestone for the Highways Agency, following on from several years of investment into the road.æ The new technology will benefit the whole stretch of road between junctions 4 and 10. Rob Edwards, the Highways Agency project manager, said: 'Drivers will reap the benefit of the government investing more than £111 million on this stretch of the M6, with improved journeys and a boost for the economy. 'The move to smart motorways began in the Midlands on the M42 in 2006. This scheme brings the latest technology to the M6, despite the difficult engineering challenges we faced with the motorway being elevated. 'More than 160,000 road users stand to benefit each day, now we can open the hard shoulder during the busiest times.î The new smart motorway was delivered within the budget, the Highways Agency working in association with contractor Carillion.æ Since construction began in April 2012, over 1,700 people have worked on it, at least 30 per cent coming from the local area.æ All of the materials used in the scheme were sourced locally. Some of the changes taking place included the construction of 21 new gantries, the refurbishment of three existing ones and the re-surfacing of over 100,000 square metres of carriageway, in addition to the laying of over 78 miles of cabling.æ The improvements will make use of a range of technologies and new operational systems in order to reduce congestion and help smooth the flow of the traffic. During the busiest periods, traffic officers will be able to send overhead message signs to the drivers notifying them that they may use the hard shoulder as an extra lane. Neil Taylor, operations manager at the West Midlands Regional Control Centre, said: 'The information displayed along the motorway has been carefully designed to be intuitive, so drivers should stay alert and follow the information they see. 'They should only use the hard shoulder when there is a speed limit displayed above it. If there isn't a speed limit, or there's a red X over it, then it's for emergency use only.î The M6 smart motorway is the second of its type to go live, with drivers on the M25 already reaping the benefits of the increase in technology.