|Location Map ( geo)|
|City of Edinburgh Bypass|
|Distance:||12.8 miles (20.6 km)|
|Meets:||A8, M8, A71, B701, A702, A701, A772, A7, A6106, A68, A1, B6415|
|Route outline (key)|
The current A720 is the fully dualled and partially grade separated Edinburgh City Bypass, or City Bypass as it is often commonly known.
The route takes its number from the old city centre avoidance route which was cobbled together in c1970 from the B701 and other suburban routes to provide a link between the radial routes heading our from the city centre, although it never connected directly to the A1 to the east. This route is still complete, and again carries the B701 number. The bypass opened in staged between 1980 and 1990, with further junction works carried out since. More recently, it was considered by Edinburgh City Council as a possible outer cordon of the congestion charging zone which if implemented would see a proliferation of "Park and Ride" centres and parkway stations for trams or trains at each of its intersections, however these plans have changed several times and not yet proceeded.
Gogar – Juniper Green
The route begins at the large, semi-grade-separated and signalised Gogar Roundabout with the A8 at Gogar on the western side of Edinburgh. Many would argue that it should start at the A90 Queensferry Road and include the Maubury Road section of the A902, but that's another discussion. The junction has a couple of free-flowing links that provide access between the A8 and the South Gyle Broadway and South Gyle Broadway and the Edinburgh Bypass. These provide easy access to the Gyle shopping centre and business parks. All other movements are via the roundabout, which sits above the A8 dual carriageway. This underpass was constructed as 2-lane dual but to ease flow from the bypass heading into the city it is reducedto a single lane to allow a cleaner merge. The A720 is partially a Special Road and as such the entrances from the roundabout have signs indicating prohibited traffic with the ubiquitous small wooden fence indicating where restrictions apply. Because of the specialness, this junction, like all others on the city bypass, have special signs indicating a route for cyclists that provides a suitable route, which basically follows the B701.
The City Bypass starts as a dual 2-lane carriageway heading south with a third lane merging in line from the Gyle Centre. Almost immediately sliproads for the next junction are met. This is the large signalised Hermiston Gait Roundabout, built in 1995 when the M8 was extended to meet the bypass. However, it was built so close to the existing Calder Junction for the A71 that its sliproads had to be extended around Hermiston Gait. These sliproads therefore serve both junctions, with a single offslip soon widening to provide 6 lanes, while on the northbound carriageway, 5 lanes are funnelled into 2 onslips. The northbound slip from Calder Junction also provides free-flow links to the M8, something which the A720 itself is sadly lacking. All of these sliproads and carriageways means that for a period of about a mile there is perhaps the widest piece of tarmac in the East of Scotland, with up to 15 lanes.
The main link between the M8 and the A720 is provided by a large signal-controlled roundabout set below the A720 carriageway. The southbound A720 is hatched down to a single lane overhead to accommodate the multiple sliproads joining in a short distance beyond the flyover. The sliproads from the roundabout then merge with the bypass just before it passes under the Union Canal aqueduct, with the sliproads to the A71 passing alongside without a connection. The M8 junction has the distinction of being one of the few places where Special Road to Special Road traffic has to give way to traffic from an unclassified road from a retail park! The A720 then passes under the signalised roundabout at Calder Junction, with the sliproads joining soon after. The first mile and a half has therefore been pretty hectic, but things quieten down for a bit as the A720 slowly curves round to head east, squeezing around the southern suburbs of the city.
The landscape contrast at the west end of the City Bypass is very interesting. As the bypass provides the de facto limit of Edinburgh's urban area and the beginning of the green belt the land to the west is open farmed countryside and the land to the east is completely developed. It is slightly odd to be standing in a field on the west side and seeing the developed edge of Edinburgh less than half a mile away with no sort of gradual development in between. The land south of South Gyle Broadway, Edinburgh Park, has been developed in the last few years and is full of modern glassy offices. This land was released from the Green Belt when the bypass was constructed. The suburbs of Baberton and Juniper Green are the only overspill beyond the bypass, but are quickly followed by the bulwark of the northern end of the Pentland Hills, with slopes too steep for regular development.
The bypass is shielded by tree covered embankments from the suburbs of Baberton, Wester Hailes and Juniper Green, with the Baberton Junction providing south facing slips to and from the B701. There is no direct connection between the A720 and the A70, which has left that road nice and quiet, although there is an indirect connection via the B701. There are two reasons for this lack of junction, firstly the land is very developed here and the construction of slip roads and a roundabout would have involved the demolition of many properties, and this is an expensive area where people know their rights. The large retaining walls that squeeze the carriageway show the difficulty that was had in putting the road through. In addition, to the south of the junction the road crosses the Water of Leith which although a small river has quite a wide valley. The expense of providing additional or wider bridges to carry the slip roads would have been prohibitive for such a quiet access.
Juniper Green – Lothianburn
Having passed under the A70 and over the Water of Leith, the bypass and its surroundings change dramatically. The road changes through the addition of full motorway-sized hard shoulders equipped with phones and originally had a big warning sign saying that it's for emergencies only. The hard shoulder begins immediately south of the Water of Leith bridge and was added in the 2000s in response to the problems caused by the all-too frequent accidents that occurred around here. The hard shoulders were constructed cheaply and most of the space for them came from the central reservation which has been reduced to a single row of jersey-style barriers. To the north, the foothills of the Pentland Hills extend a long way into the city, which forces the bypass to climb steadily from the river, often in a cutting, with the slopes rising from the edge of the westbound carriageway. Looking south from these cuttings, therefore it is hard to imagine you're on the edge of the city. When not in a cutting, the northern side is fringed by the back gardens of suburban housing, although a lot of trees have been planted on both sides of the bypass to provide screening for the properties, and indeed hide the road to some extent from the hills. It is unfortunate though that these block the attractive views of the hill. The construction of the bypass was routed through a major infrastructure corridor to minimise environmental damage so ist is shadowed by multiple sets of pylons.
The next junction is Dreghorn Junction with the unclassified Dreghorn Link. This was a short purpose-built road, built to provide access between the B701 and the bypass and is indeed the only purpose-built link. The Dreghorn Link was important as it provided access to the large barracks in the area and relieved the residents of Colinton of the passage of military vehicles. The link is pretty impressive as it required the construction of a deep cutting to link it to the B701 Before this, a roundabout provides access to the western City Bypass services and housing estates. The western on-slip for the link is interesting as it is two-way with local farm traffic only leaving it less than 100 yards before it joins the A720 directly. Continuing east, the next junction is Lothianburn Junction with the A702, where the hard shoulder, used to end just in advance of the A702 overbridge, but widening of the sliproads has changed this somewhat. The hard shoulder ends with an abruptness that indicates that the intention was to continue it further, although this is yet to happen. The A702 junction is signed as the main southern route to the M74 and Carlisle, and leaves on a long double-laned slip, with the junction itself being a skewed dumbbell due to the proximity of property.
Lothianburn – Sheriffhall
Continuing east the landscape changes dramatically once more, as the Pentlands begin to recede into the distance. To the south the new office parks of Bilston (a technology park) can be seen, while to the north the suburbs that have been shadowing the road since it started in Gogar are suddenly replaced by fields and indeed it is difficult to see the city. The open countryside so close to the city centre is very surprising and appreciated, although development is slowly spreading across it. For now, though, there is a good view of Arthur's Seat, whose size and dominance of the landscape becomes apparent for the first time. In Place of the hard shoulder, emergency lay-bys are provided, with each one being numbered to provide the emergency services with a precise location. This stretch of road has the potential to be altered significantly if Midlothian Council gets permission to construct a dual carriageway upgrade to the A701 that will bypass Bilston and Straiton and provide easy access to Penicuik. The purpose is to capitalise on the city's economic dominance of the area and encourage people to move into its jurisdiction. Needless to say this is being opposed vehemently by the environmental groups.
The current Straiton Junction with the A701 is almost an exact copy of the A702 one: a dualled dumbbell, albeit built at less of a skew. The other big difference is that the A701 goes under the bypass whereas the A702 goes over. Beyond the junction the southern aspect becomes a lot more rural but almost as a direct response the northern city side become visible again due to the presence of large multi-storey blocks (about ten storeys) which punctuate the landscape. On the left side an old railway line is visible, which used to service the mines of Midlothian but has now been converted to a cycle route.
The Lasswade Junction is a bit of a mystery, as it provides limited access (west facing slips) to an unclassified local road with no apparent primary destination. Any destination it does serve could be well served by the junctions on either side, although only making them busier. The next junction, Gilmerton Junction for the A772 (former A7) also only has west facing slips, and does provide a very useful alternative to Sherriffhall for some traffic. There is, however, a suggestion that the junction was at least planned, if not opened with an eastbound onslip. The old A7 alignment survives in part to access properties, and has the appearance of a closed up sliproad, although whether this ever carried traffic after opening is unclear. A westbound offslip seems a little less likely as it would have had to meet the A772 at a T junction.
A mile further east, the bypass reaches the Sheriffhall Roundabout, where it meets the A7 and A6106 (former A68). This junction is infamous for being the only at grade junction on the bypass, and sadly it deserves its reputation. SABRE has had many discussions on the reasons for its apparently dreadful design but the main reason seems to be a result of unstable mine workings underneath, which couldn't withstand bridges. This is plausible but why they didn't use a concrete raft (as on the M74 stretch in South Lanarkshire), or similar engineering solution is unclear. The signalised junction is nearly always horribly overloaded, especially at peak times and can have tailbacks that stretch for half a mile in every direction. Initially the roundabout was not signal controlled but this meant that traffic on the other routes had difficulty getting onto the junction due to their relative quietness. However it did make the bypass comparatively free-flowing. Traffic lights were installed to force bypass traffic to yield which left it in the current mess.
As many have suggested the only appropriate solution to this junction would probably be to provide an overpass for the A720. The A68 also used to pass through the roundabout, but since 2008 it has been diverted further east. While this did relieve some pressure in the short term, it is interesting to see how much busier the A6106 is getting as it provides a quick short-cut to the Fort Kinnaird shopping centre. The growth of new housing estates at Danderhall is also adding traffic to this junction
Sheriffhall – Whitecraig
Most of the section to the east of Sheriffhall is raised on an embankment and provides some of the best views on the whole bypass. To the south there is the Dalkeith House country park (which stood in the way of the proposed Dalkeith Northern Bypass) and to the east is a panoramic view of the Lammermuir hills. The area feels very rural now as the city has not yet developed too close to the route. The immediate surroundings of the bypass are much less interesting, being very flat and scarred by industry. In the past there were mining bings, and derelict railways, but this has slowly been tidied up. This section of the bypass is like the rest dual 2 lanes with emergency lay-bys, but also has a ghost bridge. The bypass crosses over the reinstated Waverley railway line to Galashiels a little before crossing the old alignment at a 'ghost' bridge. The penultimate junction on the route is the Millerhill Junction, another dumbbell, with the A68 Dalkeith northern bypass, which was opened in 2008, removing some traffic from the Sheriffhall Roundabout.
Just as the sliproads merge in, the route crosses into East Lothian and the large embankment of the A1 comes into view ahead. The terminus of the A720 is similar to how it started: a large roundabout with the other route given grade separation, although it is not signal controlled. Adjacent to the roundabout are the road's eastern services, although all that remains is a filling station, the remainder having closed and been demolished. The A1 becomes a special road as it passes over this junction and with the A720 a special road, all restricted traffic has to have an escape route. This escape route is provided by the roundabout being unrestricted and a small single-carriageway link to the B6415 and therefore access to Musselburgh. This link road's number is debatable, heading away from the junction it's signed as the primary B6415 whereas in the other direction the A1 and A720 are given equal billing. Like the Gogar and Sheriffhall roundabouts this one has bad congestion and should really have direct free-flowing links providing direct access between the A1 and A720 Westbound, and A720 and A1 Eastbound. What the A720 really needs is for all its roundabouts to be removed!
As noted above, the A720 number was first applied to a completely different route to the south of Edinburgh. Today this is largely the B701, a number which applied to some of the route way back in 1922, only to be usurped from c1970 until the current bypass was built. For a full description of the route, therefore, see the B701 page. During construction of the new bypass, there were a number of temporary terminii, with different sections built and opened at different times. To the south west of the city, the dualled section of the B701 between the A71 and Baberton Junction remained as part of the A720 after the bypass was opened from Baberton to Lothianburn. The existing on slip at Baberton was therefore wider, carrying both carriageways from the roundabout onto the new road. Maps suggest that the Dreghorn Link may have opened a little later than the bypass, which initially terminated on the A702, traffic having to briefly head north to resume the older A720 route.
Straiton Junction and Sheriffhall Roundabout were also temporary termini, with the section between being the last to open in December 1989, a little over a year after the sections to either side. At this part of the route, however, the B701 is a lot further into the city, meaning the diversion onto the old A720 was greater, possibly leading to through traffic seeking out other routes. One curious find is that the Edinburgh inset on the 1982 OS Route Planning Map shows the new bypass route from Baberton to Lothianburn as the A79. The A79 number has applied to a largely suburban route in Ayr since the 1960s, leading to speculation as to whether this is a mapping error, or whether there was a proposal to use the number on the whole bypass - with many arguing that two digit A roads should all be major trunk routes, not insignificant suburban ones. To date, no other evidence for the A79 at Edinburgh has been found.
The official opening of the bypass was on 19 March 1990 by Bruce Millan, European Commissioner. Total cost of the City Bypass was an estimated £72 million.
The need for an Edinburgh southern bypass was known in the 1960s, when the B701, a road which connected the A71 and A701 on the edge of the city, was lengthened and upgraded to Class I status, becoming the first incarnation of the A720 in this part of the country. A better road was clearly needed, however, and the route currently known as the A720 was built and opened in sections between 1980 and 1990.
|July||1993||Gogar Roundabout Upgrade|
|December||1986||A8 Gogar||A70 Baberton|
|1995||Hermiston Gait Junction built|
|May||1981||A70 Baberton||A702 Lothianburn|
|June||1988||A702 Lothianburn||A701 Straiton|
|December||1989||A701 Straiton||A7 Sheriffhall|
|November||1988||A7 Sheriffhall||A1 Old Craighall|
|2008||Millerhill Junction built as part of A68 Dalkeith bypass|
- Edinburgh City Bypass (Colinton Section and Connecting Roads) Special Roads Scheme 1980 Confirmation Instrument 198
- Edinburgh City Bypass (Sighthill, Burdiehouse, Gilmerton and Millerhill Sections and Connecting Roads) Special Roads Scheme 1988 and the Edinburgh City Bypass (Sighthill, Burdiehouse, Gilmerton and Millerhill Sections and Connecting Roads) Special Roads (Appropriation) Order 1988 Confirmation Instrument 1989
- The Edinburgh City Bypass (Colinton Section and Connecting Roads) (Speed Limit) Regulations 1983 - revoked by 1989/2125 (below)
- The Edinburgh City Bypass (Sighthill, Colinton, Burdiehouse, Gilmerton and Millerhill Sections and Connecting Roads) (Speed Limit) Regulations 1989