A brief history of UK motorways

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We rely on our motorways every single day for travel and the network is vital for our country’s economy. But, how much do you know about the nation’s motorway network? Here is a brief history of these important roads:

First motorway

The very first motorway in the UK was the Preston Bypass and it was opened by Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister in 1958. It offered businesses and tourists a quicker route between the Lake District and Blackpool. The Bypass is now part of the M6.

The M1

The first full motorway was the M1, of which the first stretch was opened in 1959. Believe it or not, motorists could drive as fast as they wanted as there was no official speed limit. The 3 carriageways were designed to accommodate 14,000 vehicles a day but today serves ten times that number. It is now 200 miles long and travels from the A406 in London to Hook Moor in the north.

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Toll Motorway

The longest motorway in the UK is the M6, which passes through some of the nation’s most heavily populated areas. By 1980, congestion was a problem in Birmingham, so the government conceived the idea of a motorway bypass. Officials couldn’t decide and the prospect seemed bleak due to funding cuts, so the government suggested a toll motorway instead. In 1991, the Midland Expressway Ltd company were successful in their bid to construct and run the M6 Toll Motorway for a period of 53 years. It finally opened at the end of 2003 and it runs for almost 30 miles between Cannock and Coleshill.


Out of all the roads and motorways in the UK, the most notorious must be the M25. Its reputation came about mainly due to its use and cost. It became much more popular than the original designers expected and as a result, the traffic on it grinds to a halt every day during rush hour. It has been given the nicknames the UK’s biggest car park or the Road to Hell.

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It’s also notorious for the sheer amount it cost to build. On its opening in 1986, the construction totalled £7.7 million per mile. The entire 118 miles cost £909 million and it has since proved expensive to maintain and repair as well. Highways England probably know all about this as they have the responsibility to maintain the motorways in England. No doubt you’ll have seen maintenance vans on the M25 with their reflective chevrons on the back. For more information on Chevron Kits, visit www.vehiclechevrons.com

Aside from the traffic and congestion headaches, the M25 is a crucial part of the country’s motorway network. Having only been around for a few decades, it has already changed the face of the nation’s infrastructure and economy in many positive ways.


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