The PRESTON BY-PASS was Britain's first motorway . It was designed
and engineered by
Lancashire County Council surveyor James Drake as
part of a larger initiative to create a north-south motorway network
that would later form part of the
Planning started in 1937, despite there being no legal powers that permitted motorway construction until the introduction of the Special Roads Act 1949 . Early work was hampered by heavy rainfall, resulting in postponement of various heavy engineering works such as the base foundation; the result of the weather meant the original two-year plan was delayed by a further five months. Weeks after opening, the road had to temporarily close due to water causing further problems, when the base layer was damaged as a result of a rapid freeze and thaw cycle .
The by-pass has undergone two separate lane-widening schemes during its existence, firstly in 1966 when it was widened to three lanes, then in the 1990s to expand it to four lanes in each direction. The latter upgrade was significant enough to require reconstruction of the entire route including all bridges and it is now effectively a different motorway from the one that opened in 1958.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Planning * 1.2 Construction * 1.3 Opening
* 2 Operation
* 2.1 Upgrades
* 3 Route * 4 See also * 5 References * 6 External links
Before the motorway was constructed, the
A6 road through Preston
handled north-south traffic with tailbacks and congestion a common
occurrence, more so during special occasions such as the Blackpool
Illuminations . The route had been planned as far back as 1937–1938,
with the basic alignment still deemed feasible by the time Lancashire
County Council gave approval in the mid 1940s. Chief engineer Drake
was part of a delegation from Lancashire that travelled to Germany in
1938 in order that a plan could be drawn up by the council. The agreed
route formed part of the County Surveyors' Society's national
proposals and was protected by
Lancashire County Council from any
future developments. During planning, the legal powers necessary for
motorway construction did not exist, until the introduction of the
The by-pass under construction, 5 December 1958
The road was originally built with two lanes in each direction, but with an unusually wide central reservation to accommodate a third lane to be added each way at a later date. The work was a compromise between the Ministry of Transport and Drake, the latter who thought two lanes would not be adequate. Initially, the shoulders were hardened with gravel but not paved, a fact still reflected in the British term hard shoulder . A hedge was planted along the length of the central reservation to help reduce dazzle from the headlights of oncoming traffic at night. The road was constructed to not be a long length of straight road and with the addition of various bridges and tree planting, in the hope to prevent driver boredom reported on foreign motorways.
The earth material used for the embankments was planned to come from the road foundation works, but rainfall meant it was no longer fit for purpose and had to be imported instead. In total, 3,400,000 tonnes (3,300,000 long tons; 3,700,000 short tons) of earth was excavated, with a further 668,000 tonnes (657,000 long tons; 736,000 short tons) of material imported for filling. The sub-base consisted of burnt red shale with thickness dependent upon the ground conditions, followed by a layer of wet mix around 9 inches (23 cm) thick and topped with 2–3 inches (approximately 6.4 cm) of tarmac lined with 0.5-1 inches (approximately 1.9 cm) of asphalt . A total of 22 bridges were required in construction, and designers were given relative freedom in planning them. Chief engineer Drake proposed the bridges be painted different colours to enhance aesthetics and help alleviate driver boredom, contrary to conventional practice of using neutral colours; drivers subsequently reacted favourably to alternately coloured bridges.
The contracted period for construction was planned to be around two years, but the timescale was lengthened by nearly 25% due to rainfall that persisted throughout much of the early construction period. The heavy rainfall in late 1956 had profound effects on the heavy engineering works required to construct the road foundation, resulting in this aspect of work being postponed until early 1957; an extension of five months was granted due to the extraordinary and unforeseen weather conditions. Numerous lessons were learnt from the construction of Britain's first motorway, particularly towards using an appropriately screened base material, with water drainage systems that should be appropriate and fit for purposes, as well as the inclusion of continuous hard shoulders.
Plaque to commemorate the opening of the by-pass
The by-pass was opened on 5 December 1958 by the Prime Minister,
The by-pass being used shortly after opening, 1958
The motorway was designed to be capable of handling vehicles at speeds of 70 mph (110 km/h), a limit which is unchanged to this day; no speed limit was enforced for the first few years. Lancashire Police estimated that 2,300 cars were using the road each day within the first month of opening, which was considerably less than the road's capacity. During the early period of operation, drivers reported being apprehensive about using the motorway through fear of faster drivers over-taking them, with average speeds recorded as being in the region of 38 mph (61 km/h), despite police records for the month ending 23 May 1959 showing no vehicle being driven faster than 75 mph (121 km/h). Shortly after opening, the motorway saw its first two minor incidents; each was as a result of inexperienced drivers (in one case, an underage driver) being unfamiliar with motorway driving and losing control of their vehicles.
On 21 January 1959, just 46 days after opening, the motorway had to temporarily close to undergo emergency resurfacing work, as water had drained into the hard shoulder and seeped into the base layer. This subsequently suffered as a result of frost weathering, resulting in crumbling road parts affecting approximately 1% of the surface. The cost of repairs was in the region of £5,000 (equivalent to £106,755 in 2016), as quoted by then-Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Harold Watkinson ; additional drainage systems were also installed alongside the carriageway at a cost of £90,000 (equivalent to £1,921,584 in 2016).
An additional third lane was added in each direction in 1966 using
the land reserved within the central reservation, without the need to
modify existing bridges. Despite the relative ease in this work, the
lack of hard shoulders at the bridges meant the number of available
lanes during engineering works was inadequate to cope with the traffic
volumes of the time, estimated to be have been in the region of
140,000 vehicles daily. Construction of the
The bypass underwent significant work during the early 1990s, when it
was completely rebuilt to become 4 lanes in each direction. All of the
bridges needed removing so a hard shoulder could be provided, despite
most of them having a design lifespan of 120 years. The bid to
undertake the work was awarded to
Preston by-pass route (left: 1958, right: 2017)
Despite the motorway passing through industrial areas, the proposed
route alignment meant that property demolition was kept to a minimum,
with just a single farmhouse and three dwellings requiring demolition.
The route was constructed through four separate localities, including
1.65 mi (2.66 km) through the
County Borough of Preston , 2.54 mi
(4.09 km) through the Urban District of
Initially, there were a total of 22 bridges built under or over the
motorway, such as a principal bridge at
Samlesbury which carried
traffic over the
The routes around the city of Preston, including the by-pass as part of the modern day M6 motorway, are recognised as being some of the most congested in the UK, with traffic to and from Preston being labelled amongst the country's top 25 most congested routes.
MILE KM NORTHBOUND EXITS (A CARRIAGEWAY) JUNCTION SOUTHBOUND EXITS (B CARRIAGEWAY) COORDINATES
8.0 7.5 12.9 12.1 The Lakes , Lancaster M6 M6 J32 The North, The Lakes, Lancaster M6 53°48′24″N 2°41′52″W / 53.806759°N 2.697787°W / 53.806759; -2.697787 (M6, J32)
6 5.8 9.6 9.3 Preston (East), Longridge B6242 M6 J31A No access 53°47′20″N 2°39′30″W / 53.788940°N 2.658262°W / 53.788940; -2.658262 (M6, J31A)
5.6 Preston (Central),
2.3 No access
Only the contemporary Junction 31 existed on the original by-pass formation
* ^ Marshall, Chris. "Preston Bypass". cbrd.co.uk. Chris Marshall.
Retrieved 16 June 2014.
* ^ "UK Motorways, 1958–2008". November 2008: 13. Retrieved 1
* ^ A B C D E F G "Preston By-Pass – Official Opening Booklet"
(PDF). Lancashire County Council. 5 December 1958. Retrieved 15
* ^ A B C D E "M6
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