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Highways England chief executive Jim O’Sullivan is to stand down early next year.

O’Sullivan, who was appointed in 2015, has led Highways England’s (HE’s) delivery of the government’s roads programme.

He has also overseen the controversial smart motorways system which was suspended earlier this year after the Transport Select Committee and the Police Federation warned that the practice of using the hard shoulder as a live lane in periods of congestion had created “deathtraps”, largely responsible for 38 deaths on the network since being launched in 2015.

Following a review in March which put in place 18 additional safety measures including better signage and longer and more frequent refuges, the government revived the programme and last week announced that another seven routes will be added to the network covering the M62, M6, M56 and M40.

O’Sullivan, who is being replaced with interim chairman Roger Lowe, said HE had “achieved great things in the past five years” adding that it had “done things that five years ago would not have been considered feasible”.

He added: “I leave Highways England well placed to deliver the second roads period and to prepare for the third. That makes it a good time to step down and I wish the sector and the company every success for the future."

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “I’d like to thank Jim O’Sullivan for his hard work and commitment over the past five years.

“His successor will start at an exciting time for the company as it embarks on our ambitious £27.4bn Second Roads Investment Strategy.

Lowe said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Jim for the great commitment he has shown in leading Highways England through the first five-year roads investment period and establishing a strong base for the recently agreed second phase.

“He has been instrumental in so many of the positive changes which benefit all our stakeholders.”