MOTORISTS will be breathing a sigh of relief from today after a six-mile stretch of new motorway, which has been limited to two lanes and subject to rigidly-enforced speed restrictions, is opened.

While journey times on the A1(M) between Leeming Bar, near Bedale and Catterick, will only be cut by a few minutes, the move by Highways England, is certain to be warmly welcomed by those who have been affected by congestion and more than 15,000 drivers caught speeding through the zone.

The section of road has been subject to 50mph average speed check restrictions since March 2014.

The move comes more than four months after North Yorkshire County Council leader Councillor Carl Les pressed for the section to be opened, saying it appeared the roadworks there were completed.

The agency today declined to confirm when the remaining section of the £380.3m upgrade - from Catterick to Barton - would complete the missing link of motorway between London and Newcastle using the M1 and A1(M).

However, it has pledged to open up sections as they are completed to help drivers and said some more three-lane stretches would be launched this year.

It is hoped the road upgrade scheme will cut journey times between Leeming Bar and Barton by 20 per cent and increase road safety.

Tom Howard, Highways England project manager, said: “We are pleased to be able to open this section ahead of the main completion to give drivers the benefits of motorway standards PROGRESS: Work on the A1(M) Leeming Bar to Barton scheme in 2015 as well as smoother and safer journeys.

“This is an important milestone and means we are now half-way to completing this major scheme on this vitally important route.

“Safety will be improved as there will be less agricultural traffic and no cyclists or pedestrians.”

It is estimated the project will help to save 20 lives and prevent more than 450 accidents over the next 60 years.

The scheme was due to be completed in June this year, but it was delayed following numerous archaeological finds and poor ground conditions near the River Swale.

The agency have said the scheme will be completed this winter, but have not specified a finishing date.

He said: “Generally, the work has gone very well. We did have more archaeological finds than we expected underneath the A1 on an old Roman road and so at times there were 75 archaeologists working on the site.”

The rest of the project involves completing the local access road between Scotch Corner and Brompton-on- Swale.

It is hoped the Fort Bridge will be open by mid-November, which will provide a new east to west link to Catterick for pedestrians, cyclists and divers.

The next milestone will be the opening of the motorway between Scotch Corner interchange and junction 56 at Barton, and between Catterick junction and Scotch Corner interchange.

Cllr Les said: “All in all, I think we are all very frustrated in the Catterick area but very pleased that it is getting to the end of the project.”