|Original 1923 route (black) against current (red) route|
|Distance:||7.1 miles (11.4 km)|
|Meets:||A8, A728, A749, B763, A728, M74, A763, B765, B7058, M74, M73, B7001, B758, A721, B7071|
|Former Number(s):||A732, A721|
|Old route now:||A724, B7071, A72, B7078, A702, B7076, A74(M), M6|
|Route outline (key)|
The A74, despite only a fragment of it remaining under this classification in Glasgow today, is a road that is much remembered by those who used to make the great journey north (or south) along it before it was upgraded to the A74(M) throughout the 1990s. Today, only a few yards of the original 1923 route still carry the A74 number.
The A74 begins immediately south of the George Bridge in Glasgow, at a junction with the A8. It passes through the Gorbals and crosses the Clyde at the King's Bridge, before running through Glasgow Green. It passes through industrial areas in Barrowfield, where it widens to dual carriageway. There are three junctions with the M74 before it meets Broomhouse, beyond which the existence of the A74 is ambiguous - the Ordnance Survey consider it to run to the A721 New Edinburgh Road - the route ahead being the B7076.
The old road
The A74 originally started in Glasgow at a junction with Trongate and Gallowgate with the A8 and headed southeast along London Road (crossing the current route at Bridgeton) and Dalmarnock Road, through Cambuslang to Hamilton. The route switched to run via Uddingston via the ex-A732 in 1935, with the old road becoming the A724.
The majority of the A74's dualling took place in the early to late 1960s, and as a result it was quite a low standard road by modern expectations. Aspects of the design which made the road notorious included narrow laybys for bus stops, at-grade right turns, sharp bends, and narrow lanes for most of the link between the M6 at Carlisle and the M74 at Blackwood.
The road itself had some excellent sections in terms of engineering, despite the low standard, including a portion with split level carriageways much like those on the M6 further south through the Lune gorge, and several landmarks helped travellers locate themselves on the otherwise bleak and windswept moors of the southern uplands. For many, the old switchback under the West Coast Main Line on the Lanarkshire boundary was always a memorable landmark of the old road. The bend still remains on the now single carriageway old road, the B7076, but the original railway bridge itself was replaced in the mid-2000s, taking away the character of the old double bend somewhat.
In December 1988, the A709 junction became internationally recognised as the site of a crater following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. For many weeks after the disaster, this section of the A74 along with the burned out houses on Sherwood Crescent alongside the dual carriageway were photographed and shown around the world by several media outlets, the tragedy making the small town of Lockerbie famous for all the wrong reasons.
Progress north was always quick, which gave the road its fearsome reputation as a dangerous anachronism, so the A74 reached Blackwood sooner than would be expected, but not before a particularly narrow bypass of Lesmahagow (which was one of the first sections to be bypassed by the M74 in 1986), and traffic could then be directed onto the motorway to reach Glasgow's boundaries before being tipped back onto the A74 at the M73 junction. This situation changed in the early 1990s when the connection to Cambuslang opened, bypassing some more of the route, although unlike all the other bypassed sections the A74 here was not renumbered.
Following the A74 from the former terminus of the M74 takes drivers through the east end of Glasgow, past Celtic's ground, and eventually into the Gorbals, before the route gets swallowed up in the byzantine maze that is the one-way system on the south bank of the River Clyde.
1980 strip map
The improvements begin
Throughout the 1990s, the A74 was almost a constant building site, as crews moved up and down the route from the extended M74 at Abington to Gretna. This meant that long sections of the rural road were subject to a maze of contraflows, diversions, and realignments as the motorway slowly but surely replaced the old 1960s dual carriageway.
The Gretna Bypass opened first, in 1992, and as the decade went on, various sections opened in a seemingly random fashion. The final section, which now forms junctions 15 to 16 of the A74(M) opened in 1999, four years after the rest of the route had been upgraded. The new motorway gave the route three lanes in each direction, and even ten years after its completion it still feels much quieter than the M6 to the south, or the narrow dual two lane section of the M74 further north (itself now a bottleneck).
The construction of the motorway posed some interesting engineering challenges. In some places a brand new road was built alongside for non-motorway traffic, and in others the old dualled road was simply reduced to a single carriageway with the motorway rushing alongside it. One point of note from the new motorway is that most of the signs are patched to read A74(M). Underneath they all read M6, for the original intention was to extend the M6 from Carlisle all the way up the new motorway, to Abington, where it would arbitrarily change to M74. For reasons that have never been discovered, this change never happened in 1999 when the motorway was fully linked up from Gretna to Glasgow. Several signs still hint at the road being the M6 - although it appears for now that any renumbering has been ruled out.
The Cumberland Gap
The other remaining non-motorway section of the A74, and the one that drew far more attention from travellers, was the Cumberland Gap. This section of the A74 was the link between the M6 at Carlisle and A74(M) at Gretna. Built originally with the Carlisle Bypass, it was (somewhat ironically considering the bottleneck it became) once the highest quality section of the entire A74, as some of it featured hard shoulders and crude grade separation in the form of LILO junctions.
Arguments raged between the Scottish Executive and the Highways Agency over who would build the motorway upgrade to finally connect the English and Scottish motorway networks together. By the turn of the 21st Century it was running the risk of becoming a major embarrassment to all parties concerned, and in 2006 contracts were signed and works finally began to eliminate the gap once and for all. As with some of the 1990s sections of the A74(M), this stretch was to be upgraded entirely on-line with a new road for non-motorway traffic constructed alongside. Existing overbridges would be retained and the majority of the works would be within highway boundaries.
The other notable feature of this new motorway was the retention of Todhills service area, which was given brand new slip roads and designated as a rest area. This enabled the small site, which consisted purely of a roadside café and petrol station on each side of the A74 to avoid the stringent requirements of a full service area, and protected the jobs of the staff at the site. Whether or not the concept will be extended to other stretches of motorway is still unknown.
One thing that was rather unlike the 1990s upgrades was that this section was to become part of the M6 to the border with Scotland, where the existing A74(M) would remain. The non-motorway access road alongside has also not been numbered, and is built to a low specification unlike the former dualled sections of the A74 further north.
The contracts required the demolition of the original Mossband Viaduct, resulting in a wider road crossing over the West Coast Main Line carrying both motorway and local road, as well as a new bridge to carry the widened carriageways over the River Esk. The motorway replacement opened to traffic in the early hours of December 5, 2008, which was also the 50th anniversary of the completion of the Preston Bypass (the first stretch of motorway in the UK). This marked the end of one of the most notorious sections of A road in the United Kingdom, and the end of an era for the A74.
In June 2011, the M74 was extended through to Kingston on the M8, removing the A74's importance as a major through route in Glasgow. It is still an important local road from the motorway to the city centre via Celtic Park, and while some signs suggest it has become an extension of the A721, other signs still use the A74 number. If renumbering is officially confirmed, it would leave the A74(M) as a motorway standard bypass of a road which only exists in that form, and may prompt renumbering to either M74 or M6. Even if the number is eventually lost to the history books, it will be difficult to erase the nostalgic connotations raised by this old artery.
The A74 evolved from Thomas Telford's 19th century coaching route from Glasgow to Carlisle, replacing the earlier (and, by all accounts, impractical) Roman Road. Telford, in collaboration with engineer William Alexander Provis, designed a then-modern coaching road in 1814-15, with construction complete by 1825. The road was built to good standard, and hence was chosen as the line of the A74 nearly 100 years later. Several bridges and other features of this route survive on the B7076 and B7078 in the south of Scotland.
The road was re-routed in the Lesmahagow area in the 1930s and this involved the construction of a new dual carriageway which bypassed the centre of the town. This section included the 'Lesmahagow New Bridge' which was completed in 1938.
Major improvements to the road began in the mid 1950s and conversion of sections of the road to a dual carriageway was underway by 1957. The verges at Beattock summit were widened in 1955, whilst a short length (0.75 miles) of the road was re-routed near Johnstonebridge in 1957, and Paddy's Pickle bridge was re-constructed in 1959. Construction of the first of the dual carriageway sretches began in 1957 with a 5 mile section immediately south of the existing pre-war dual carriageway at Lesmahagow. Construction of the Beattock to Lockerbie section was underway by 1958, with work on the Abington and Crawford bypasses commencing in 1959. Originally it was anticipated that the whole of the route would have been dualled by 1965, but it soon became clear that progress was not as quick as had been hoped and the first of the new dual carriagway stretches did not open until 1961. Grade separated junctions were to be provided where the road met other major routes, whilst flat crossings would suffice for the numerous minor roads linking to the route. The majority of the dualling was online with bypasses provided for the larger settlements along the route.
- A 5 mile section south of Lesmahagow opened in 1961.
- The Crawford and Abington bypasses, including the section between them, opened in 1962. The Abington bypass featured a free-flow GSJ with the A73.
- An 11 mile section between Beattock and Lockerbie and a 4.5 mile section between Lockerbie and Ecclefechan opened in 1962.
- Beattock and Blackford were bypassed in 1963, although part of the latter was absorbed into the southern part of the M74 when it opened in 1966. GSJs were provided with the A701 at Beattock.
- Mossband viaduct was built in 1964.
- The Lockerbie bypass, including 3 GSJs, opened in 1965, as did the section from Crawford to just south of Harthope viaduct, and the section north of Abington towards the current J12.
- The 7 mile section across difficult terrain between Harthope viaduct and Beattock was dualled around 1967. The section had become something of a bottleneck as the road both to the north and south had been dualled several years earlier. This section featured the split level carriageways much like those found on the M6 through Tebay.
- Ecclefechan was bypassed in 1967, and the dual carriageway was extended towards Kirkpatrick Fleming.
- Kirkpatrick Fleming was bypassed in 1969.
- Much of the Cumberland gap section was built in 1969/1970 and opened with the M6 in December 1970.
- The Gretna bypass was the last section to be built, construction began in 1971 and the section opened in 1973 as a fully grade separated dual carriageway including a short D3 section.
Due to the number of accidents and fatalities on the route, several safety improvements were made throughout the 1970s, and there was already pressure to convert the whole road to a motorway. 1m hard strips were added to the edges of some sections of the road, and central crash barriers were installed along the route throughout the 1970s in an effort to improve safety. Extra route confirmation signs were added to remind drivers that the road was not a motorway, and some gaps in the central reservation were closed, but no major changes were made to the route until the mid 1980s.
The route was largely replaced by the new motorway from 1986 onwards and only a 5-mile section around Lesmahagow survives as a dual carriageway today. (See M74 and A74(M) History for more details on the construction of the motorway.)
Upgrade works in progress through the Cumberland Gap in May 2008.