|Location Map ( geo)|
|M61/M6 Junction in 1977|
|Construction Start Date|
|12th June 1956|
|5th December 1958|
|M6 • M55|
The Preston Bypass was the first motorway opened in the United Kingdom in December 1958, and was the first section of M6 to open, although today the northernmost section is part of the M55. Today it is almost virtually unrecognisable following major reconstruction and widening works in the 1990s.
Planning and Construction
Plans for a motorway-style bypass of Preston were first proposed by the then-Lancashire County Council in 1937 as part of their North-South Route, but a combination of World War 2 and the lack of a suitable legal framework meant that no further work was done. By the end of 1949, two major happenings made the North-South Route come into focus. Firstly, the 1949 Road Plan for Lancashire included the road as the county council's top priority, subject to suitable finance being made available by the Ministry of Transport. Secondly, the Special Roads Act finally gave a legal framework to the possibility of a road restricted only to motor traffic.
In 1953 it was announced by the Minister of Transport that the Bamber Bridge to Broughton Special Road scheme (the Preston Bypass's official name) was to be moved forward with, and by the end of the year money was made available for construction to commence in 1956. In February of that year tenders were invited for the construction of the motorway, with the winners being announce in April. The vast majority of the construction work was completed by Tarmac of Wolverhampton, with the Samlesbury Bridge contract being won by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company of Darlington, and the Higher Walton Bridge over the A675 being constructed by Dorman Long of Luton.
Work commenced on 12 June 1956, and was completed in time for the opening by the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan on 5 December 1958.
However, the road as constructed was not entirely to the liking of Sir James Drake, the County Surveyor and Bridgemaster of Lancashire County Council. He argued that the road should be constructed to three lanes each way standards, but the Ministry would only pay for two lanes each way. Drake however managed to persuade the Ministry that they should lay the road out on a three-lane (plus hard shoulder) cross section, but only construct two of the running lanes plus the shoulder, leading to a wide central reservation.
It is also not commonly realised that although Lancashire County Council promoted and managed the contruction, a stretch of just over 1.5 miles was actually through the County Borough of Preston, over which Lancaster County Council held no powers. Agreement was therefore needed between the two bodies for construction to proceed smoothly.
The signage on the Preston Bypass was of an experimental nature, and some was never used in any other location. The Anderson report into signage along motorways had not yet been published, and the existing TSRGD signage standards for all-purpose roads was completely inadequate for the purpose.
Signs had to be designed that were larger than the usual, with a number of what were for the time unusual features, some of which (for example, the use of white lettering on a blue background) are familiar today. The motorway symbol (shown to the left) was not, however, the familiar modern chopsticks sign, but an unfamiliar circular symbol. Signage leading to the motorway was white, with blue patches for the motorway itself. Instead of the then-usual all capitals, mixed case wording was used.
Exit countdown markers were used, but instead of the modern rectangular signs, a triangular version was used. At either end, a giant red circular sign with the wording "End of Motorway" in white upon it was used, not only at the exits but at the mile and half mile points; whilst a variant of the NO sign was used at the entrances to the motorway.
The Bypass followed the line of the Lancashire North-South Route, from the A6 at Bamber Bridge Interchange round to meet the A6 once more at Broughton, with the only junction between being that at the A59 at Samlesbury Interchange; although a further junction at Prospect Hill Interchange with the future Preston Southern Bypass and Belmont Link Motorway was designed to be added later. The junctions at both ends were future-proofed to allow for continuation of the North-South route southwards towards Warrington, and for the future proposed motorway link to Blackpool, now the M55.
At what is now the site of Broughton Interchange where the M6 and M55 diverge, a simple turn was provided with the expectation that construction of the motorway northwards towards Lancaster would start from this location. Whilst this choice may seem strange, the simple fact is that traffic needed to be returned back to the A6 for its continuing journey northwards.
The entire bypass opened with the number M6, despite the fact that motorway numbering had not been decided upon at the time of opening. The number was almost unilaterally decided upon by Lancashire County Council, and was specifically mentioned by the Ministry of Transport when the numbering scheme was created. Whilst the Ministry pointed out that the route should have opened with the number A6(M) according to the new scheme, they bowed to the inevitable and allowed it to stand.
From the completion of the motorway northwards towards Lancaster in 1965, the northen end of the bypass was left as a spur of the M6, with the terminal roundabout holding the junction number of 32A. This was then renumbered to M55 in 1975 (with Broughton Roundabout renumbered to junction 1) when the motorway to Blackpool opened.
Six weeks after opening, the Bypass closed once more. The winter of 1958-59 was unusually wet and mild, and damage to the road surface caused by a rapid thaw on the night of 17-18 January 1959 was severe. Following checks and tests on 20 January including by Lancashire Police, the motorway was closed from the morning of the 21 January. There was no guidebook in how to repair to road and keep it open, so the decision was made to close which would allow repair work to be completed much more quickly.
Further problems occurred with the soft shoulders constructed for the motorway, when it was discovered that they were actually not strong enough for lorries, or indeed for the jacking of cars, so in 1963, hard shoulders with a distinctive red colour were fitted to the motorway.
The bypass was quickly a victim of its own success. It was far busier than any of the other early motorways, and there are a number of reports of hour-long queues to exit the bypass at either end, especially in the summer months with traffic going to and from Blackpool. James Drake was proved to be correct, and so in 1965 the bypass was widened to three lanes each way between Bamber Bridge and Broughton Interchange, the new junction at the original temporary bend where the bypass met the new section of motorway linking to the Lancaster Bypass, using the central reservation space as designed.
Into the 1970s and beyond
Following the proposal of the Central Lancashire New Town, a Study Report was commissioned into the potential new traffic flows required around the Preston area. This was published in September 1969, and proposed two further bypasses of Preston - the Southern Bypass (which had previously been proposed by Lancashire County Council), and a new Western Bypass forming what was called the Preston Box; along with the Northern Bypass (M55) which was already being proceeded with. The Study suggested that the Western and Southern Bypasses would be required by 1980.
Meanwhile, in November 1969, the M61 opened, connecting with the bypass at what is now the junction at Blacow Bridge, and having stubs for the connections to the still-proposed Prospect Hill Interchange. Whilst this improved connectivity for traffic wishing to access Manchester, Bolton and the rest of south east Lancashire, it meant that further traffic was added to the bypass.
Over the 1970s and 1980s, planning, design and consultation work continued on the Western and Southern Bypasses, but in common with a number of proposals of the era, start of construction was not authorised. However, in the mid-1980s, a further study recommended the urgent widening the Preston Bypass itself between the M61 and M55 junction to dual four lane standards. This was added to the forward programme in 1987, moving to public consultation in 1989 and in March 1993 the main contract for the widening work was handed out. However, this then meant that in July 1993, the Ministry announced that the Western and Southern Bypasses would be put on indefinite hold (although the lines would be protected) until traffic conditions on the widened M6 could be fully assessed.
The widening work involved the removal of all the overbridges across the motorway, and only a few underbridges remained. The carriageways were completely rebuilt with some sections slightly offline; leading to what can be considered to be an almost entirely new motorway. In addition, the present Haighton Interchange at junction 31A was added.
As the section of Bypass west of the Broughton Interchange saw major changes as part of the construction of M55, there is now very little that would be recognisable as part of the original bypass. The only remaining original overbridge is between junctions 29 and 30, and is easily recognisable by the lack of hard shoulder through the bridge.