Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly sounded the death knoll for long-awaited plans to widen the M6 motorway between Birmingham and Manchester, as she unveiled plans to use the hard shoulder instead.
She published a Department for Transport study which found using the hard shoulder would be cheaper, faster and safer than building an extra lane.
It follows a successful pilot scheme on the M42 near Birmingham, where motorists were allowed to use the hard shoulder in order to cut congestion and get traffic moving. But Ms Kelly revealed that motorists who wanted to enjoy faster journeys on the M6 may have to pay.
She was considering copying a scheme in the United States where some motorway lanes were available only to vehicles with a minimum number of passengers, or for motorists willing to pay a toll.
She said: "There is a compelling argument for car-share or charged lanes, which have been used for some time in the US. In order to get maximum benefit, access to car-share lanes is limited to vehicles carrying passengers, or single drivers willing to pay a toll.
"I intend to explore the possibility for taking a similar approach here where we are adding new capacity."
The Department for Transport has been considering expanding the M6 to eight lanes on a 55-mile section Junction 11A at Cannock and Junction 19, south of Manchester.
The measure has the strong backing of the business community in Birmingham, which argues better transport links with the north west of England would boost the region's economy.
Last night the Department for Transport said widening was still one option being considered. But the 80-page study published by Ms Kelly concludes that using the existing hard-shoulder would be a better option.
It concludes: "Hard shoulder running should prove to be a quicker way to alleviate congestion problems on the network that conventional widening."
Widening the motorway would require buying land but this was unlikely to be necessary if the hard shoulder was used instead, the report said.
"Experience from the M42 pilot suggest that hard shoulder running can also be delivered with a smaller environmental footprint than widening."
The Government was considering a number of widening schemes across Britain's motorways, including on the M1 and M62 as well as the M6, which would cost a total of £8 billion, the report said. But if these were replaced with hard shoulder running, the cost would fall to £2.5 billion.
It would also be possible to include more of the motorway network in the programme, but still save billions of pounds.
Hard shoulder driving could be introduced on the M6 from junction 2 to 8 and from junction 11 to 24, the report said.
Ms Kelly said the "active traffic management" scheme on the M42 had been a success and the Department for Transport study had concluded it should be extended to other motorways.
"It provides compelling evidence for developing the concept more broadly to improve motorway performance on congested routes in other parts of the country."
Ms Kelly also announced yesterday that the Government was making more money available to encourage local councils to consider introducing road pricing schemes.
Her announcements were greeted with disappointment by business leaders.
Jerry Blackett, chairman of the West Midlands Business Transport Group, said: "The case for widening the M6 has been established beyond doubt.
"We back active traffic management and in some places it could be very useful, but it is not an alternative to widening the motorway. This is a sticking plaster, not a real solution."
David Frost, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, warned: "We need extra capacity and that means building new roads. This cannot be a long-term answer to solving congestion on our motorways."
But the report received cautious backing from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England.
Gerald Kells, CPRE policy officer for the West Midlands, said: "We welcome this because it is much better than building new lanes. But it can only be a temporary solution. The real answer is to provide alternatives to cars."