M74 and A74(M) History
|M74 and A74(M)|
|To:||Gretna, Dumfriesshire (NY331669)|
|Length:||81 miles (130.4 km)|
|Meets:||M73, M6, A702, A75|
|Route outline (key)|
The M74 and A74(M) are motorways in southern Scotland, the latter being a southward continuation of the former. Considered together, they run from Glasgow to a point just south of the English border near Gretna, where they meet the M6. They form the only substantially-D3M long-distance rural motorway in Scotland. The A74(M) is D3M throughout; the M74 is a mixture of D2M and D3M.
To restate from another point of view: there is a single continuous 320-mile motorway, from a junction with the M1 (and A14) near Rugby to a junction with the M8 in Glasgow, known for the first 230 of those miles as M6, which unlike any other British motorway changes its number en route, at a point which is not even a junction with another motorway; and not content with doing so once, it does it again. This turns out to be because of historical accidents and politics rather than any cunning plan.
It could now (since June 2011) even be argued that there is a third such superfluous change of number, where the M74 becomes the outer carriageways of the M8, which exist separately from the mainline M8 for a further mile but share its number.
This page is for the History of the M74 and A74(M). This falls into four phases defined by the intended eventual length of motorway at each stage. They are referred to here as Phases 0, 1, 2 and 3, but it must be emphasized that this is not official terminology. No such terminology was needed, because at the time the current phase was always seen as the last.
It is notable that the change in number from M74 to A74(M) does not occur at a boundary between two phases, but is internal to Phase 3.
Phase 0 (1950s)
In the 1950s the plan was for the A74 to be dualled throughout from Glasgow to Carlisle, with bypasses where necessary and generally online dualling elsewhere. (A 1.5-mile section at Lesmahagow had been dualled before World War II, as perhaps had the 1-mile Hamilton-Bothwell section.)
It was always clear that a long stretch of new alignment would be required at the north end, bypassing Uddingston, Bothwell, Hamilton and Larkhall. Proposals for this bypass reached the stage of an order being made for it as an all-purpose road in 1954 (and a 1938 order for a bypass of Larkhall only was revoked), but it was never built in that form. In those days it was not unusual for orders to be made a long time before the construction of a road.
The proposed locations of the north and south ends of this bypass are unknown but the north end may well have been the same as for the first version of the M74 proposal as described below. There are hints that the south end may have been either at, or not far south of, Canderside Toll, where M74 junction 8 is today.
On 1 April, 1956, responsibility for trunk roads in Scotland passed from the Ministry of Transport to the Scottish Office, but this seems to have had little direct effect on the plans.
Phase 1 (1960 to 1972)
In 1959 consulting engineers were appointed to review the 1954 bypass proposal. This resulted in a decision, probably in 1960, that the bypass would be built as a motorway. We may speculate that its design was adapted from the previous all-purpose proposal with only limited changes.
Meanwhile, in 1961 the Ministry of Transport decided that the M6, previously planned to terminate at the north end of the Penrith bypass, would continue to Carlisle and include a bypass of Carlisle.
The first currently known mention of the name M74 is in December 1963. Until then, proposed motorways in Scotland were referred to simply by the number of the A road they were meant to relieve, without even an appended "(M)", or else by descriptive phrases. The names M8 and M9 appear at the same time, and M73 and M90 in 1964. M80 and M876 first appear in 1969 and M77 in 1972. As described below, A74(M) does not appear until 1992.
When the Scheme for the motorway was first published in draft in 1962, its northern end was proposed to be at a junction (type unknown, but possibly an at-grade roundabout) with the A74 London Road, Mount Vernon, 220 yards west of its junction with B7058 Mount Vernon Avenue. It is not known whether eventual extension into Glasgow was intended at that time; it seems plausible that the idea of such extension first arose soon afterwards in connection with the development of the Highway Plan for Glasgow. At any rate, when the Scheme was made in 1963 the northernmost mile from the draft Scheme was left out, and a Variation Scheme was published in 1964 and made in 1965, adjusting the alignment at the new north end. This would (pending eventual extension into Glasgow) be at the city end of the planned Maryville Interchange with another proposed motorway, the M73. The first proposed northern extension, described as "M74 Maryville-Carmyle" and as 3 miles long, appeared almost immediately in official lists of proposed motorways.
The permanent southern end of the M74 would be at Draffan or Canderwater Interchange, at a point between the present junctions 8 and 9, north of Blackwood and Kirkmuirhill, and two or three miles south of the inferred location of the south end of the previously proposed all-purpose bypass. This made the M74 about 13 miles long.
It would be D3M as far south as the junction with the A723 between Hamilton and Motherwell (J6 today), and then D2M for the rest of the way to Draffan. Here it would meet the A74, which would continue south as all-purpose D2 for some 71 miles, the last 6 of which would be in England, ending at an end-on junction with the M6 north of Carlisle.
The southern, D2M, section of the M74, known as Hamilton Bypass Stage I, was opened on 2 December 1966. It was one of the first stretches of motorway to open in Scotland and at over 8 miles the longest at the time. (Its predecessors were a bit of the M90 and its spur the A823(M) in 1964, and the Harthill bypass on the M8, opened in 1964 and slightly extended in 1965.) It incorporated a short section of 3-year-old A74 in order to tie in to the terminal junction at Draffan, which had already opened in 1963 as a junction on the A74.
The northern, D3M, section of M74, known as Hamilton Bypass Stage II, was opened in two parts in May and August 1968. The north end of the M74 remained at Maryville until 1995.
Meanwhile, dualling of the A74 south of Draffan had been progressing since about 1960; what may have been the first post-war dualled section, all at-grade, from south of Lesmahagow to south of the A70, opened in 1961. The A74 dualling proceeded generally from north to south, with online improvements often preceding bypasses, and with gradually higher standards (e.g. more grade separation) for sections designed in later years. By the end of 1968 the entire M74/A74 route was complete except for two stretches totalling about 11 miles near the southern end, comprising the bypasses of Kirkpatrick-Fleming and Gretna, the link between them, and the majority of the English section. With the opening in 1973 of the last section, the Gretna bypass (for which full motorway status had been considered but rejected), there was a continuous route by motorway and dual carriageway from London to Glasgow.
Phase 2 (1972 to 1987)
For many years, governments of both parties, having spent money on dualling the A74, resisted the increasingly frequent calls for the entire route to be made a motorway. A concession was made, apparently some time between May and November 1972, when it was announced that the M74 would be extended some 6 or 7 miles southwards to a point near (perhaps some distance north of) the present J11. This would bypass a particularly old and low-standard section of dualled A74, including the pre-war stretch through Lesmahagow. This extension, the second phase of the M74, took a long time to get built, but it grew slightly in the planning, absorbing a separate proposal to grade-separate the A74/A70 junction, so that when completed in 1987 it was 9 miles long, ending at the present J12, Millbank.
Phase 2 was built in three contracts, of which the two northernmost opened simultaneously in October 1986, and the southernmost, much delayed by bad weather, in November 1987. The 1986 opening included both the abolition of the former terminal junction at Draffan and the replacement of the original junction numbering by a southward-increasing system. Strangely this made much less allowance for the long-proposed northern extension into Glasgow than later proved necessary; for the eventual implications see under "Northern extensions" below.
Phase 2 was built to D2M standard like the south end of phase 1. For over a mile at its north end it was a widening of the existing A74; the rest was on a new alignment until the southern tie-in. The sections of A74 bypassed by phase 2, though reclassified as B7078, mostly remain dual carriageway.
A short section of new single carriageway B7078 was required at Draffan to maintain access for local traffic. Several vestiges of the former junction still exist there, and at Blackwood there are interesting survivals of the original all-purpose bypass, where the hard shoulders narrow under a bridge of early 1960s vintage, and a stretch of former southbound carriageway serves as an unusually long slip road. This passes over the B7086 by the eastern half of a 1960s bridge, of which the western half was demolished to make space for a bridge carrying the new main carriageways.
It seems that at late stage of planning, possibly even after the start of construction, the specification of the southernmost contract, Poniel to Millbank, was expanded (or an additional contract was let) to include a climbing lane on the southbound M74/A74 for a mile or so, starting at the bridge over the A70. On the motorway section, i.e. north of the merge of the on-slip, this comprised the provision of a third lane instead of the hard shoulder. On the A74 section, it comprised widening of the carriageway on the east side to create a third lane.
Phase 3 (1987 to 2011)
The final decision to make the whole Glasgow-Carlisle route a motorway was taken in 1987, having been an election promise by the Conservatives who won the general election in June of that year to remain in power. Motorway sections south of J12 therefore form a third phase, which would involve about 55 miles of new motorway in Scotland and 6 in England.
It was not announced at this stage that it would be all D3M, but it turned out so. This was probably not strictly justified by traffic forecasts according to the criteria in effect at the time. A government audit body later said that the motorway should have been built as D2M with climbing lanes where necessary and provision for future widening to D3M throughout. In September 2010, stu20_ml2 wrote in the SABRE forums:
The reason for D3M is politics. The three final Tory Secretaries of State for Scotland, Rifkind, Lang and Forsyth were desperate to show Scotland that the Government was not anti-Scottish and gave us a nice big wide road to keep us happy and hopefully keep voting Tory- also that the road conveniently passed through solid (at the time) Tory Constituencies. ... I should also note that Lord Hamilton (final Tory Scottish Transport Minister) advised around 95/96 that widening would be considered north of junction 12 in addition to their plans to widen the M8 from Newhouse to Claylands.
The route from J12 to Carlisle was divided into four sections and each was given to a different firm of consulting engineers to carry out a feasibility study followed by detailed design. The southern section, allocated to Babtie, Shaw & Morton, was bisected by the Anglo-Scottish border, though presumably the English stretch was not allocated to them until after the Department of Transport added it to the programme in 1989. The intention was that each of these four fairly long sections would be subdivided into shorter sections for the award of construction contracts.
For several years from 1987, resources were put into the project to get each Scottish section through its planning stages faster than usual for major road schemes. The project was popular with the Scottish public generally, and an unusual amount of informal consultation was held with local people to overcome potential objections and get sections to construction quickly. This led to a large proportion of the route being completed by the end of 1995 as described below. Until then it was built in relatively small sections. At the peak of activity about seven contracts were under construction simultaneously.
The first "phase 3" section to start construction (on 27 April 1990) and to be completed (on 29 Nov 1991) also happened to be the northernmost, from J12 to J13, extending the previous M74 southward on a line well separated from that of the A74, an online route having been rejected because it would require extensive service diversions and building on boggy ground. This section includes a new summit for the Carlisle-Glasgow route, at (according to one newspaper report) 1060 ft. This point, unmarked by any sign, remains less well known than the lower Beattock Summit further south on the old A74, yet is higher than any other Scottish motorway and higher than Shap on the M6 (1036 ft).
At J13 a dumbell junction replaced the previous grade-separated fork which had provided free flow for traffic between the south and Edinburgh but had left other traffic movements in the area needing to cross the central reservation.
At the opening ceremony on 29 November, Ian Lang, the Secretary of State for Scotland, announced that on completion the entire route would be renamed M6. Until then the project (or at least the section north of the border) had only ever been referred to as M74. The section opened that day was known as M74 at the time, and still is.
The earliest currently known mention of the name A74(M) is in a House of Commons written answer on 5 March 1992 where six proposed sections are referred to by that name. Another eary mention is in a tendering advertisement for the section from Water of Milk to Ecclefechan published on 23 April 1992. A few days later, in the Edinburgh Gazette of 1 May, 1992, an Explanatory Note was appended to a routine notice announcing the making of the Scheme for a section of the route north and south of Beattock. This read:
The Scheme and associated Appropriation and Side Roads Orders published in draft on 31st August 1990 included reference to the Glasgow-Carlisle Special Road (M74). The Secretary of State has decided to change the number of the upgraded sections of the Glasgow-Carlisle Trunk Road (A74) lying to the south of where the existing M74 ends at Nether Abington. Each section, on completion of upgrading, will be renumbered A74(M). Once all the sections of the A74 between Carlisle and Nether Abington have been upgraded, the entire length of the M74 and the A74(M) from Glasgow to Carlisle will be renumbered, and form part of, the M6. The Scheme and associated Orders have been amended to reflect these changes, where necessary.
This note still does not make entirely clear why it was thought necessary to introduce the A74(M) name but at least the sequence of known events has now been set out. Over the next two years the same note appeared in relation to two other sections for which orders had been published in draft before the A74(M) decision but were made after it.
It is conceivable that the name A74(M) may have been mentioned in Lang's November 1991 speech, but this seems unlikely, as the Water of Milk to Ecclefechan section was still referred to as M74 when the notice of making its Scheme was published in the Gazette on 7 February 1992.
In the 20/27 August 1992 issue of New Civil Engineer, the humorous columnist "George Street" (the pseudonymous name is a reference to the address of the Institution of Civil Engineers) wrote
I am reliably told that when conversion of the A74 between the Solway Firth and Glasgow is completed it will become not the M74, as the finished sections are being called, but the M6.
The argument, and I merely pass this on, is that roads are indivisible throughout Britain and therefore it is logical for the M6, which begins at the Birmingham turnoff from the M1 east of Rugby, to carry on right into Scotland's industrial heartland.
You think that this plan, or plot if you are a Scot, has been kept a dark secret from those who have nationalist ambitions. I can tell you, less reliably this time, that the decision has already been announced by the Scottish Office.
But it was done in such a throw away manner and so deeply buried in a long, boring press release that no one noticed.
Clearly the writer of the column was not fully familiar with all the details of the situation as described in previous paragraphs, but this item shows that the M6 decision was politically sensitive in Scotland. Indeed it was perhaps not universally supported even within the Scottish Office. Some perhaps saw the motorway as a distinctly Scottish achievement meriting a distinctive Scottish route number. Otherwise how can we explain the fact that junctions on sections of A74(M) as they opened turned out to be numbered in the same system as on the M74, not the same as the M6? Was it an attempt from within the Scottish Office to sabotage the Office's announced policy? (It is possible that junctions on the Gretna section, somewhat isolated from the rest of the M74/A74(M) when it first opened, were initially without numbers.)
The first two sections to open as A74(M) did so in August and December 1992. The first was not far south of the M74, but not contiguous with it, while the other was the southernmost Scottish section of all, an upgrade of the already near-motorway-standard A74 past Gretna and Kirkpatrick-Fleming, involving extensive demolition and replacement of not very old bridges.
The Gretna section also involved the demolition in early 1991 of a feature that had been erected only two years earlier to mark the Anglo-Scottish border. This reportedly comprised, on each side of the route, a length of sandstone wall surmounted by a cairn, to form a kind of gateway. Evidently its design had not allowed for the need to add hard shoulders to the route. (The A74 was already D3 for a short distance here, to allow for weaving between the A75 and A6071 junctions.)
In December 1993 the M74 and A74(M) came into direct contact for the first time with the opening of the Nether Abington (J13) to Elvanfoot (J14 south) section. From then there was a continuous 37-mile motorway from Glasgow to Paddy's Rickle Bridge, changing from M74 to A74(M) at J13.
January 1995 saw this grow to 40 miles with the opening of the long-planned first northern extension of the M74, taking it to Fullarton Road, Glasgow. This remained its terminus until 2011. A few months earlier, in September 1994, four contracts opened on the same day, creating a useful stretch from Ecclefechan to Dinwoodie Green, four miles north of Lockerbie.
The section from Eaglesfield to Kirkpatrick-Fleming, awarded to a consortium of two Italian companies, was naturally known as "the Italian job". They were perhaps unfamiliar with Scottish conditions and got into financial problems and huge delays caused by wet weather and sodden ground. Part of their stretch was then subcontracted to the Scottish firm Morrison, which was ahead of schedule with its adjacent stretch, Ecclefechan to Eaglesfield Phase 2.
By the end of 1995 the route comprised, in order from north to south, (1) the 40-mile stretch of M74/A74(M), (2) an 18-mile stretch of all-purpose A74 which we'll call the Beattock Gap, (3) a 24-mile stretch of A74(M) from J16 (then always known as Cleuchbrae) to just south of the border, (4) the 6-mile A74 Cumberland Gap leading to the M6.
1996 was the only year of the 1990s in which no construction took place on the project. Money for conventionally funded contracts was now in short supply, so a PFI DBFO contract was awarded on Boxing Day 1996 to construct the A74(M) through the Beattock Gap and to maintain for 30 years the entire phase 3 stretch of A74(M)/M74 between the border and J12. The intention to rename the route was so firm at that time that the contract was called the M6 DBFO, and the winning consortium took the name Autolink Concessionaires (M6) PLC. The construction phase of the contract was completed, and the Beattock Gap eliminated, in May 1999.
The relationship between the line of the motorway and that of the former A74 varied from section to section. Most frequently, the motorway was built alongside the existing road. From junction 13 southwards, the bypassed sections of A74 were reduced to single carriageway and reclassified as B7076 (or A701 or A702) as soon as through traffic was removed from them. Between junctions 12 and 13, the lonely upland stretch of A74 bypassed in 1991 was immediately reclassified as B7078 but remained dual for several years before being reduced to single carriageway like its southern neighbours. A cycle route was created along most of the ex-A74, in some places by marking wide marginal strips, and in others by keeping part of the width of the otherwise removed carriageway.
The DBFO contract included a time-limited option to upgrade the Cumberland Gap in England, but the Department of Transport and Highways Agency decided they could not afford to take it up without sacrificing priorities elsewhere. The Cumberland Gap was therefore not eliminated until 2008, bringing the M6 and A74(M) into contact at Guards Mill Interchange.
Stories have circulated to the effect that, at the time when the option in the DBFO contract was still open, the Scottish Office "offered to pay for" the English section, but even though the contract has now been published, it is not known how much truth, if any, such rumours contained. A parliamentary reply on 31 January 1995 seems to contradict the rumours. Because it is a PFI contract, payments to the contractor, by whatever public authority, must continue for 30 years.
Signs on the A74(M) in the former Beattock Gap and on most sections to the south of it carry the number A74(M) on removable plates or stickers believed (and in some cases demonstrated) to conceal M6 beneath, in accordance with the policy when they were built.
At some date after 1996 the policy of eventually renaming the route as M6 appears to have been reversed, possibly because the newly devolved Scottish government took a different view from the former Scottish Office. On two occasions in the early years of the Scottish parliament (established 1999), questions asked there met with the reply that there were "no plans" to rename the route; this might merely have meant that no formal decision had yet been taken. Some observers expected the route to be renamed when the M74 and A74(M) made contact, or to coincide with the filling of the Beattock Gap, or of the Cumberland Gap, or the opening of the northern extension, but most now think the strange number changes will remain for the foreseeable future.
Marker post and phone numbering
In theory at least, all UK motorways have marker posts on the nearside at 100m intervals, numbered in kilometres and tenths. (Until the early 1970s they were at 110 yard intervals, numbered in miles and sixteenths.) On most English motorways, marker posts are now supplemented by Driver Location Signs at 500m intervals, but these are not used in Scotland.
In the absence of evidence we are left to speculate about the original marker post numbering system on the M74. Most likely it increased northwards, like the junction numbers, with the zero point most likely at Draffan. The present system increases southward and has presumably been in place since about 1986-7 when Phase 2 was opened. This system not only applies throughout the M74 but continues along the northern half of the A74(M), as far south as the bridge of J16.
Once the route of the proposed northern extension was known the location of the zero point could be estimated. In 2011 it could finally be observed to be on the Port Eglinton viaduct, midway between the crossings of Pollokshaws Road and Eglinton Street. How it comes to be there is a mystery.
This leaves a short gap before the meeting with the M8. In the gap the posts are numbered in a unique local system beginning with the letter X. Posts on the viaducts seem to be falling over at a high rate. Unless someone re-attaches them, the evidence will soon be gone.
The A74(M) south of J16 uses the same London-based system as the M1 and M6, but the adoption of this system was not without a hiccup. The first (and most) southerly A74(M) section, Kirkpatrick Fleming to Gretna, has always had northward-increasing numbers, but they were initially measured from the south end of the A74(M) some 500m south of the border. Subsequent nearby (and less southerly) sections adopted the London-based system from the start. Kirkpatrick Fleming to Gretna was brought into line soon after the start of work on the M6 DBFO contract.
In the numbering of emergency telephones there are again two systems. In this case the transition point is the local authority boundary at Nether Howcleuch, between junctions 14 and 15. Phones to the south presumably connect to Dumfries and Galloway police. They are numbered in a simple sequence 1, 2, ... from north to south; each number is preceded by E or W to indicate the eastern (southbound) or western carriageway. Until the Cumberland Gap upgrade, the southernmost pair of phones numbered in this system was not only in England, but actually on the all-purpose A74, though on the northernmost part of it where it was of D3M standard.
North of Nether Howcleuch, emergency phones presumably connect to Strathclyde police, and are numbered in the same system as those on most motorways in England, but with (perhaps inevitably) one twist. Each phone has a 4-digit number followed by A or B for the carriageway, and the last three digits of the number represent the distance in units of 0.1 km. Normally this would mean a simple relationship between the number on a phone and that on the nearest marker post. But in the case of the M74, there is a systematic difference of about 9 km - as if the distances for the phones were measured from somewhere near Renfrew on the M8!
Phase 3 came at a time when civil engineers were showing an interest in arched bridges, a type of construction that had been neglected for decades. This is exemplified by the following A74(M) or M74 bridges, built by a variety of different methods but all concrete and of roughly semicircular cross-section:
Over Mein Water, SE of Ecclefechan
Over the WCML at Castlemilk, south of Lockerbie
Over the WCML south of Beattock
Over Glengonnar Water south of Abington
Over a railway just east of J3.
To recap what was said under Phase 1: The first (1962) proposed route for the M74 ended on London Road at Mount Vernon; this was soon revised to Maryville; this represented mainly a curtailment, but was clearly associated with a plan for a westward extension into the city. Almost immediately a proposed 3-mile extension, "Maryville-Carmyle", appeared on lists of proposed trunk motorways in Scotland. This probably referred to an extension as far as what until 1975 was the Glasgow city boundary, which the M74 crosses at a point not far west of Fullarton Road and due south of where Dalbeth Road is today; from here westward, responsibility would be with the City Council.
Local government reorganisation in 1975 brought two changes. The city was enlarged eastward, so that its new boundary followed North Calder Water, which flows under what was then the terminus of the motorway at the NW end of Maryville Interchange; but also, Glasgow became a second-tier authority, with primary responsibility for major roads passing to the new Strathclyde Regional Council.
[more to come here about planning and construction of Maryville to Fullarton Road section]
The extension from Maryville to Fullarton Road opened in January 1995. The new junctions were numbered 3, 2, 1, continuing the system introduced in Phase 2.
[more to come here about planning and construction of Fullarton Road to Kingston Bridge section]
The extension from Fullarton Road to meet the M8 just SW of the Kingston Bridge was opened on 28 June 2011. Many observers were surprised that the opportunity was not taken to rename the outer carriageways of the four-carriageway section of M8 as M74.
There were fewer new junctions between Fullarton Road and Kingston Bridge than in some earlier proposals; even so the lack of foresight in the Phase 2 renumbering now reached crunch point. The new junctions were numbered 1, 1A, 2; the junctions known for the previous 16 years as 1, 2, 3 were renumbered 2A, 3, 3A. In this way a second renumbering of junctions already renumbered in the 1980s was avoided. It is not clear why the opportunity was not taken to minimise change to established numbers by employing letters later in the alphabet. It seems that at one stage one use of the letter B was considered but dropped.
Plea for information
Further information would be welcome, especially on the following subjects:
Exact opening date in 1973(?) of the original A74 Gretna bypass
Any further information on policy on numbering of the route (M6 vs. M74 vs. A74(M)) especially in 1991-2 and 1997-9
Communications between the Scottish Office and Department of Transport in the 1990s about the Cumberland Gap
History of proposals for the Glasgow end of the route
The politics through time (Scottish Office/Government vs. Glasgow City Council vs. Strathclyde Regional Council) of proposals for the Glasgow end
- M74 Opens 1966/1968.
- First Extension of the M74 to Junction 12 in November 1986.
- M74 extended southwards to Junction 13 in November 1991.
- First section of A74(M) opens between Junction 14 and Paddys Rickle Bridge in August 1992.
- The section between Gretna Green & Kirkpatrick Fleming opened in December 1992.
- The section of A74(M) between Abington Interchange(J13) and Elvanfoot (J14) opened in November 1993.
- A74(M) opens between Ecclefechan (J19) and Johnstonebridge (J16) in September 1994.
- The section between Ecclefechan and Kirkpatrick Fleming (J21) was built in November 1995.
- The A74(M) is completed in April 1999 with the opening of the Elvanfoot to Johnstonebridge Section. This includes the last junction built, the Beattock Interchange.
- Linked to English Motorway network in December 2008.
- The M74 completion between Kingston and Fullerton Road opened at 19:00 on the 28th July 2011.