The M6 motorway runs from junction 19 of the M1 at the Catthorpe Interchange, near Rugby via Birmingham then heads north, passing Stoke-on-Trent, Liverpool, Manchester, Preston, Lancaster, Carlisle and terminating at the Gretna junction (J45). Here, just short of the Scottish border it becomes the A74(M) which continues to Glasgow as the M74.
As of 2016, the M6, as well as combining with the length of the A14 from Brampton from junction with A1(M), the A74(M) and M74 to the junction with the M8 in Glasgow, forms the longest non-stop motorway in the United Kingdom and one of the busiest. It incorporated the Preston By-pass, the first length of motorway opened in the UK and forms part of a motorway "Backbone of Britain", running north−south between London and Glasgow via the industrial North of England. It is also part of the east−west route between the Midlands and the east-coast ports. The section from the M1 to the M6 Toll split near Birmingham forms part of the unsigned E-road E 24 and the section from the M6 Toll and the M42 forms part of E 05.
The M6 motorway runs from junction 19 of the M1 and from the beginning of A14 in Catthorpe near Rugby in central England, passes between Coventry and Nuneaton, through Birmingham, Walsall and Stafford and near the major cities of Wolverhampton and Stoke-on-Trent. The motorway has major junctions with the M56 and M62 at Warrington, giving access to Chester, Manchester and Liverpool. The M6 then heads north past Wigan, Preston and Lancaster. After the latter two cities it passes through Cumbria with some parts very close to the edge of the Lake District with a short stretch within the national park boundaries and then passes Carlisle on its way to Gretna, before the motorway becomes the A74(M) a few hundred metres (yards) short of the Scottish border.
The first section of the motorway and the first motorway in the country was the Preston By-pass. It was built by Tarmac Construction and opened by the Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December 1958. In January 1959 the Preston by-pass was closed because of rapid surface deterioration over a stretch of 100 yards (91 m) "due to water freezing and then thawing". Motorists were diverted to the old road while the UK road research laboratory at Harmondsworth pondered the importance of surface water drainage.
The second phase of construction was completed in 1960, forming the Lancaster by-pass. Some 100 miles (160 km) south, the Stafford by-pass was completed in 1962. By 1965, the remaining sections of motorway Stafford–Preston and Preston–Lancaster had been completed. 1968 saw the completion of the Walsall to Stafford link as well as the Penrith by-pass some 150 miles (240 km) north in Cumberland. In 1970, the Lancaster–Penrith link was completed, along with a short section of motorway by-passing the south of Walsall. The most northerly section of the motorway also opened in 1970, running to the designated terminus north of Carlisle. By 1971, the full route was completed between the junction with the M1 motorway at Rugby and the A38 road several miles north-east of Birmingham city centre, including Bromford Viaduct between Castle Bromwich (J5) and Gravelly Hill (J6), which at 3½ miles is the longest viaduct in Great Britain.
Junction 6 in Birmingham is widely known as Spaghetti Junction because of its complexity. On the elevated ground between Shap and Tebay, the north- and south-bound carriages split apart. At this point a local road (to Scout Green) runs between the two carriageways without a link to the motorway.
The section of the M6 that runs over Shap Fell in Cumbria is 1,050 ft (320 m) above sea level, one of the highest points on any motorway in the UK (junction 22 of the M62 on Saddleworth Moor is higher). The motorway engineers here chose to follow the route of the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway engineered by Joseph Locke (now part of the West Coast Main Line) where the motorway runs in a split-level cutting above the railway in the descent from Shap Fell through the Lune Gorge into southern Cumbria.
The northbound entry slip road at Lancaster (junction 34) was unusually short, presenting problems for traffic joining the motorway. The M6 crosses the River Lune at this point and unless the bridge had been made wider, there was no space to build a longer slip road. This junction was upgraded from an earlier emergency-vehicles-only access point, which explains the substandard design. The construction of the Heysham to M6 Link Road (The Bay Gateway) has completely re-modelled this junction with a wide additional bridge over the River Lune and other works repositioning slip roads with new acceleration lanes to modern standards.
The route was originally intended to replace the old A6, which it does along the northern section starting with the Preston Bypass. However, a much closer approximation to the overall actual route of the M6 (heading north from its southern terminus) is provided by following the A45, A34, A50, A49, then the A6. South of Preston, the A6 route is instead supplemented by the M61 as far as Manchester, with the M60 acting as a bypass around the city. South of Manchester, there is no true motorway replacement for the old road. The M1 acts as a bypass for long-distance traffic in the south, from the Kegworth junction near Nottingham, to Luton and St. Albans near London; but, it is not an alternative for local traffic as the routes diverge by more than 15 miles while passing through Northamptonshire. Across the Pennines, the old road remains the main local through-route, and long-distance fast traffic between Derby and Manchester must instead take either the A50 and M6, or M1 and M62.
In July 1972 the UK Minister for Transport Industries announced that 86 miles (138 km) of UK motorway particularly prone to fog would benefit from lighting in a project which "should be" completed by 1973. Sections to be illuminated included the M6 between junctions 10 and 11, and between junctions 20 and 27.
In March 2006, after 15 years of debate, the government authorised the construction of a 6-mile (9.7 km) extension of the M6 from its then northern terminus near Carlisle to the Anglo-Scottish border at Gretna (the so-called "Cumberland Gap"), where it links into the existing A74(M). The road opened on 5 December 2008, the 50th anniversary of the M6 Preston By-pass. The project, which was a mixture of new road and upgrade of the existing A74, crosses the West Coast Main Line and had an estimated costs of £174 million. It completed an uninterrupted motorway from just south of Dunblane (via the M9, the recently opened M80 section near Cumbernauld and the M73) in the north to Exeter (via the M5) and to London (via both the M42/M40 and the M1) in the south.
The M6 Toll, Britain's first toll motorway, which bypasses the West Midlands conurbation to the east and north of Birmingham and Walsall and was built to alleviate congestion through the West Midlands, and opened in December 2003. Before the opening of the toll motorway, this section of the M6 carried 180,000 vehicles per day at its busiest point near Wolverhampton (between the junctions with the M54 and M5 motorways), compared with a design capacity of only 72,000 vehicles. Usage, at about 50,000 vehicles, was lower than expected and traffic levels on the M6 were only slightly reduced as a result. The high toll prices, which were set by the operating company and over which the UK government has no influence until 2054, were blamed for the low usage. Much traffic continues to use the M6 or the continued on the M1 and took the A50 or A52. As of July 2012[update] the road between Junctions 3A and 11A now carries 120,000 motor vehicles every day.
A proposed extension to the M6 Toll known as the 'M6 Expressway', which would have continued from the M6 Toll as far as Knutsford, at which point much of the existing M6 traffic leaves the M6 for Manchester, was abandoned in 2006 due to excessive costs, anticipated construction problems and disappointing levels of use of the M6 Toll.
In October 2007, following a successful trial on the M42 in the West Midlands, the UK government announced that two stretches of the M6 would be upgraded to allow the hard shoulder to be used as a normal running lane during busy conditions under a scheme called active traffic management. The two stretches, between junctions 4 and 5 and between junctions 10a and 8, are two of the busiest sections on the entire motorway. It was then proposed that the system could be extended onto other stretches of the M6 while the government undertook a feasibility study to determine other likely locations for this technology to be used. The stretch between junctions 4 and 5 was completed during December 2009 while the stretch between junctions 10a and 8 was completed during March 2011.
The government wishes to improve reliability and capacity between Junctions 11 by Cannock and Junction 19 near Knutsford. In 2004, it favoured a new motorway, 'The Expressway' following a roughly parallel course to the existing M6. In July 2006, the government announced its decision to abandon the Expressway proposal, and favoured widening accompanied by demand-management measures, and have launched a study to consider options for providing additional capacity. The current proposal is in introduce managed motorway between Junction 13 and 19. It was later divided into two separate stretches, between junctions 16 and 19 and junctions 13 and 15. The stretch between junctions 16 and 19 started construction in December 2015 while construction on the stretch between junctions 13 and 15 was set to commence from March 2018.
Data from driver location signs are used to provide distance and carriageway identifier information. Where a junction spans several hundred metres (yards) and the start and end distances are known, both distances are shown.
|M6 motorway junctions|
|mile||km||Northbound exits (A carriageway)||Junction||Southbound exits (B carriageway)||Coordinates|
|Motorway continues as A74(M) towards Scotland||Start of motorway|
|313.2||504.3||Gretna B7076, Longtown A6071||J45
||No access (on-slip only)|
|Todhills Rest Area||Services||Todhills Rest Area|
|Carlisle (North), Galashiels A7||J44
||Carlisle A7, Workington A689|
|Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle A69||J43||Carlisle, Hexham, Newcastle A69|
|Carlisle (South) A6||J42||Carlisle A6|
|Southwaite services||Services||Southwaite services|
|Wigton B5305||J41||Wigton B5305|
|Penrith, Workington, Brough A66||J40||Penrith, Keswick, Brough A66|
|Shap (A6)||J39||Shap, Kendal (A6)|
|Tebay services||Services||Tebay services|
|Brough A685, Appleby B6260||J38||Kendal, Brough A685|
|Kendal, Sedbergh A684||J37||Kendal, Sedbergh A684|
|No access||Services||Killington Lake services|
|Barrow, Kendal A590 (A591), Kirkby Lonsdale A65||J36||Skipton, Kirkby Lonsdale A65, Barrow A590|
|Burton-in-Kendal services||Services||No access|
|Entering Cumbria||Entering Lancashire|
|Carnforth, Morecambe A601(M) (A6)||J35||Carnforth, Morecambe A601(M) (A6)|
|Kirkby Lonsdale, Heysham, Morecambe, Heysham A683, Lancaster A589||J34||Lancaster, Morecambe A683|
|Lancaster (South) A6||J33||Garstang, Fleetwood A6|
|Lancaster (Forton) services||Services||Lancaster (Forton) services|
|Blackpool, Fleetwood M55
Preston (N) (A6)
|J32||Blackpool, Preston (N) (A6) M55|
|Preston (E), Longridge B6242||J31A||No access (on-slip only)|
|River Ribble||J31||Preston, Clitheroe A59|
|Preston (C), Blackburn (N), Clitheroe A59||River Ribble|
|No access (on-slip only)||J30||Manchester, Bolton M61, Leeds (M62), Blackburn (M65)|
|Burnley, Blackburn, Preston (S) M65||J29||Burnley, Blackburn M65|
|Leyland B5256 (A49)||J28||Leyland B5256|
|Charnock Richard services||Services||Charnock Richard services|
|204.8||329.6||Entering Lancashire||J27||Wigan, Parbold A5209|
|204.4||329.0||Parbold, Standish, Chorley A5209||Entering Greater Manchester|
|Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58||J26||Skelmersdale, Liverpool, Southport M58|
|Wigan A49||J25||No access (on-slip only)|
|No access (on-slip only)||J24||St Helens, Ashton A58|
|Entering Greater Manchester||Entering Merseyside|
|St Helens, Liverpool, Southport A580||J23||Manchester, Liverpool, Newton A580|
|192.4||309.6||Entering Merseyside||J22||Warrington (North) A49|
|192.1||309.1||Newton A49, Leigh A579||Entering Cheshire|
|Leeds, Bolton, Manchester (N) M62||J21A||Manchester, Bolton, Leeds M62|
|Liverpool, Warrington (N), Southport (M57) M62||Liverpool M62|
|Warrington (Ctr & East), Irlam A57||J21||Warrington (Central), Irlam A57|
|185.6||298.7||NORTH WALES, Chester, Runcorn M56
Warrington (South), Lymm A50
Lymm Truck Stop
|Macclesfield, Warrington (S) A50, Lymm B5158
Lymm Truck Stop
|NORTH WALES, Chester, Runcorn, Manchester (S & ) M56[Note 1]|
|Manchester, Manchester (M56) A556||J19||Northwich, Macclesfield, Knutsford A556|
|Knutsford services||Services[Note 2]||Knutsford services|
|Northwich, Chester, Middlewich, Holmes Chapel A54||J18||Northwich, Chester, Middlewich, Holmes Chapel A54|
|Sandbach, Congleton A534||J17||Congleton, Sandbach A534|
|Sandbach services||Services||Sandbach services|
|162.6||261.7||Entering Cheshire||J16||Newcastle-under-Lyme, Stoke-on-Trent (North), Crewe, Nantwich A500|
|162.3||261.2||Nantwich, Crewe A500||Entering Staffordshire|
|Keele services||Services||Keele services|
|Stoke-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme A500||J15||Stoke-on-Trent, Stone A500, Derby (A50)|
|Stafford services||Services||Stafford services||North
|Stone, Stafford (N) A34||J14||Stafford (N) A34|
|End of variable speed limit||J13||Start of variable speed limit|
|Stafford (S & C) A449||Stafford (S) A449|
|Telford (M54) A5||J12||NORTH WALES, Telford (M54), Wolverhampton, Cannock A5|
|No access (on-slip only)||J11A
|The SOUTH M6 Toll|
|(M6 Toll), Cannock A460||J11||Wolverhampton, Cannock A460|
|Hilton Park services||Services||Hilton Park services|
|NORTH & MID WALES, Telford, Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury (A5) M54||J10A||No access (on-slip only)|
|Entering West Midlands|
|Walsall, Wolverhampton (C & E) A454||J10||Wolverhampton (C & E), Walsall A454|
|Wednesbury A461||J9||Wednesbury A461|
|119.9||193.0||The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham (W & S), West Bromwich M5||J8
||The SOUTH WEST, Birmingham (W & S), West Bromwich M5|
|Birmingham (N), Walsall A34||J7
||Birmingham (N) A34|
|Birmingham (C) A38(M)
Birmingham (NE) A38
||Birmingham (NE), Lichfield A38
Birmingham (E & C) A38(M)
|Birmingham (E), Sutton Coldfield A452||J5
||No access (on-slip only)|
|No access (on-slip only)||J4A||The NORTH EAST (M1), The NORTH WEST (M6 Toll) , Tamworth M42(N)
The SOUTH WEST (M5), London (S & W) (M40), Birmingham (S), Birmingham International , Birmingham , N.E.C. M42(S)
|Entering West Midlands|
|106.0||170.6||Start of variable speed limit||J4||Coventry (S & W), Birmingham (E), N.E.C., Birmingham International , Birmingham A446|
The SOUTH WEST (M5), Birmingham (S), Solihull, N.E.C., Birmingham M42
|End of variable speed limit|
|The NORTH WEST M6 Toll, Tamworth M42(N)||J3A
|No access (on-slip only)|
|Corley services||Services||Corley services|
|Coventry (North), Nuneaton, Bedworth A444||J3||Coventry (N), Nuneaton A444, Bedworth B4113|
|Entering Warwickshire||Entering West Midlands|
|Entering West Midlands||Entering Warwickshire|
|Coventry (E) A46, Leicester M69||J2||(M1(N)), Leicester M69, Coventry (E) A46|
|Rugby A426||J1||Rugby, Lutterworth A426|
|Entering Warwickshire||Entering Leicestershire|
|85.2||137.1||Start of motorway||M1 J19
||The SOUTH, London, Northampton M1|
|The NORTH, Leicester M1(N)||End of motorway
Road continues as A14 towards Kettering
Each motorway in England requires that a legal document called a Statutory Instrument is published, detailing the route of the road, before it can be built. The dates given on these Statutory Instruments relate to when the document was published, and not when the road was built. Provided below is an incomplete list of the Statutory Instruments relating to the route of the M6.
Route map: Google