Sinkhole in M2 causes second day of delays for motorists on stretch between Faversham and Sittingbourne
The hard shoulders of the M2 are due to reopen at 6am tomorrow - but the rest of the motorway could stay shut for another 48 hours while a sinkhole investigation continues.
Thousands of drivers are experiencing nightmare journeys as work continues to repair the huge 15ft deep hole, between Sittingbourne and Faversham.
The hole has today been filled with 40 tonnes of pea shingle - but highways staff are still investigating the ground under the road.
The sinkhole has created a chasm in the motorway. Exclusive picture: Simon Burchett
It means the hard shoulder on both sides of the stretch is expected to reopen by tomorrow morning.
But the Highways Agency said lanes one and two of the motorway will remain closed while an assessment is carried out.
A spokesman said: "Today geotechnical investigations have continued, and the cavity has been filled with 40 tonnes of pea shingle to stabilise the hole to enable further assessment.
"That assessment, which is likely to take at least another 48 hours, will be carried out in and around the hole.
"For the safety of road users and road workers lanes 1 and 2 of the motorway will remain closed.
"Work has been ongoing today to ensure the hard shoulder is ready and suitable for traffic tomorrow morning and that all the necessary equipment and material for the further assessment is on site ready for use.
"Even with both hard shoulders open, there are expected to be delays in the area, so road users are urged to continue using the diversion via the A249, M20, A20, A252 and A251."
The sinkhole after being filled with 40 tonnes of pea shingle
Drivers - many of whom suffered several hours of delays in last night's rush hour - are expected to face similar journeys tonight.
But the road conditions will be made worse as gale-force winds batter the county.
Speaking earlier today, a Highways Agency spokesman couldn't say how long it would take to repair the crater - on a stretch used by around 55,000 drivers every day.
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Work's under way on the M2 to repair the sinkhole. Picture: Simon Burchett
Workers investigate the sinkhole on the M2. Picture: Simon Burchett
It has left the motorway shut in both directions on a 10-mile stretch between junction 5 near Sittingbourne and junction 6 south of Faversham.
What is known is that this is the biggest hole of its kind created in the area for around two decades.
Kevin Bown, of the Highways Agency, said the chasm had grown overnight, but until further work was carried out into the cause he couldn't confirm it was a sinkhole.
He said: "We've put pea shingle into the hole to see what happens to it - does it go away? If so, where does it go?
"From there we can start to formulate a plan of what we can do in the hole - what's the best method for a long-term solution."
That could be to fill it with foam concrete or even rubble.
The huge hole that has opened up on the M2. Picture: Highways Agency
Exclusive pictures of the workmen at the M2 hole. Picture: Simon Burchett
Although the hole had grown overnight, he said he didn't know how long it had taken to form.
But he couldn't confirm when it was likely to be fixed - despite earlier estimates that it could last until midnight tonight or even beyond.
Meanwhile, a team of engineers has been joined by firefighters, working to investigate the hole, which measures 16ft by 6ft. The agency initially said the hole was almost 50ft deep.
The M2 after the sinkhole discovery
A Highways Agency worker at the scene
A rare empty stretch of the M2 after the road closures
Experts have been monitoring the site, and equipment and materials are being organised ready for contractors to start work as soon it is safe.
In a statement issued earlier today, the Highways Agency urged drivers to avoid that stretch of the motorway.
It said: "Drivers heading to and from Dover are advised to use the M20.
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"The Highways Agency and its contractors are working hard with partners, including the emergency services and Kent County Council to minimise disruption as much as possible.
"This has included ensuring any planned roadworks are not carried out on nearby local and strategic roads.
"Lanes on the M2 will only be reopened to traffic as soon it is safe to do so."
Drivers were today still being urged to avoid the area because of the emergency roadworks.
Diversions are in place via the A249, the M20, the A20, the A252, and the A251.
The sinkhole is in the central reservation
Closed section of the M2. Picture: Highways Agency
It's been suggested the recent wet weather may have caused the fault in the road.
The AA said the road collapse was the first such incident since the M2 opened in 1965.
Spokesman Paul Watters added: "I am not aware of any previous collapses so perhaps this is yet another casualty of the exceptionally wet weather."
But as the traffic madness escalated, it seems there was a lighter side to the troubles.
A Twitter account has been set up, claiming to be from the hole.
It said this morning:
Meanwhile, another sink hole has been discovered at the recreation ground in Tenterden.
Video: Reporter Kiran Kaur speaks to the Highways Agency's Kevin Bown. Credit: Simon Burchett
It may not be the size of its 'neighbour', but the 3ft by 2ft crater has red and white protective tape around it so no-one falls in it.
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