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Roads Timeline

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This is a timeline of significant events that affected roads, their use and their construction. The roads that we use today have had many influences throughout history, some positive and some negative. This is not an exhaustive list of every road opening; historical network changes can be found in the Historical Information category.

Year Date Event
1614 The Irish Parliament passes the Highways Act, requiring parishes to maintain all the roads within their bounds that serve market towns.
1663 The first Turnpike Trust is formed, to maintain the London to York turnpike road.
1725 General Wade starts to build his network of military roads in the Scottish Highlands with the Fort William to Inverness road through the Great Glen. This was followed by roads south from Inverness and the Corrieyairack Pass.
1737 Major Caulfeild takes over from Wade, and in the next 30 years he extends the military road network in the Highlands from 250 miles to nearly 900. The network continues to expand, at a much slower rate, after Caulfeild's death in 1767.
1765 A Roads Act is passed by the Irish Parliament, allowing county grand juries to levy a charge on all farming households for the upkeep and repair of roads and bridges as well as the construction of new ones (which must be at least 21 feet wide).
1766 The General Turnpike Act makes the provision of milestones (and of direction posts at crossways) obligatory on all turnpikes.
1802 Thomas Telford starts a new Commission on Highland Roads and Bridges which sees nearly 1000 miles of new roads built in the Scottish Highlands and nearly 1500 bridges in the next 20 years. These roads are designed for the local people to use, rather than for the use of a sometimes oppressive military force.
1896 14 November The Locomotives on Highways Act raises the speed limit for "light locomotives" (i.e. motor vehicles under 3 tons unladen weight) from 4 mph (2 mph in towns) to 14 mph.
1903 14 August The Motor Car Act (effective from 1 January 1904) increases the general speed limit to 20 mph (local authorities could apply for lower limits in their areas). The Act also introduces the registration of motor vehicles and the licensing of drivers (no test is required).
1922 Road Lists - Front Cover.jpg 1922 Britain's first route classification system is created.
1927 2 November The first new-build inter-city road of the 20th century is constructed between Wolverhampton and Birmingham as the A4123.
1927 5 November The first traffic signals are installed in Princes Square in Wolverhampton.
1935 1 April The 1935 Road numbering revision makes significant changes to the initial classification of roads in England and Wales. (Similar changes take effect in Scotland on 16 May.)
1936 18 December The first Trunk Roads Act makes the Minister of Transport the authority for some 4,500 miles of through routes of national importance in Great Britain.
1949 11 May The Special Roads Act gives authorities the power to create roads restricted to use by certain classes of motor traffic ("Special Roads"). This legislation enables the later motorway building boom.
Motorway Sign M6 Lancashire - Flickr - 3206854093.jpg 1958 5 December Britain's first motorway, the Preston Bypass (M6), is opened to the public.
M1 Junction Collingtree - 1950s - Coppermine - 102.jpg 1959 November The first section of the M1, together with the M10 and M45 spurs, is opened as the first long-distance motorway.
1964 The Worboys report (published on 3 July 1963) comes to fruition in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 1964 (effective from 1 January 1965). As well as creating the basis of the modern signage system we know today, the regulations establish for the first time the concept of a Primary Route.
Country road leaving Moscow - Geograph - 1034988.jpg 1965 The National Speed Limit is introduced, initially at a standard 70 mph.
Severn Bridge.jpg 1966 The Severn Bridge opens on the M4. Together with the Wye Bridge it links England and Wales by motorway for the first time. The M4 has since been rerouted over the Second Severn Crossing, with the original bridge becoming part of the M48.
Former A625 - Coppermine - 22246.JPG 1979 The A625 on Mam Tor in Derbyshire is finally abandoned after persistent landslides. No attempt is made to construct an alternative route.
M25 Motorway from the Lye Lane overbridge near Junction 21a - Geograph - 167872.jpg 1986 October The M25 London Orbital as we know it today is completed. It is not a full orbital motorway as the Dartford Crossing is the A282.
Elveden crossroads - Geograph - 205177.jpg 1988 The first red light camera is installed as a trial in Nottingham.
M40 North of Junction 15 Longbridge - Coppermine - 17032.jpg 1991 The M40 is completed between Oxford and Birmingham. This was arguably the last long-distance motorway (that wasn't simply an upgrade of an existing road) to be completed in England.
Rugby - Dunchurch Road - Geograph - 176101.jpg 1992 Gatso cameras are type-approved for speed enforcement use.
A320 junction - Coppermine - 3645.jpg 1995 The first digital Variable Speed Limit is introduced on the M25 between junctions 10 and 16.
M60 under construction - Coppermine - 4516.jpg 2000 October The final section of the M60 outer ring road is completed. For the first time since the construction of the Preston Bypass no further motorways are under construction. The M60 is the country's only fully orbital motorway (the M25 does not complete a full loop and Birmingham's orbital is made from three separate motorways).
The Durham bollard (C) Nicholas Mutton - Geograph - 991694.jpg 2002 1 October The country's first congestion charge is introduced in Durham, a year before the London scheme.
Money Please - Coppermine - 2708.jpg 2003 December The country's first toll motorway opens as the M6 Toll, bypassing the congested section of the M6 around Birmingham and Wolverhampton. There had been earlier tolls on motorways; however, these were primarily to fund significant crossings such as the Severn Bridge.
M42 Variable Speed Limit - Coppermine - 4286.jpg 2006 September The first Active Traffic Management trial opens on the M42 between junctions 3A and 7. This entails employing variable speed limits and other technology to allow the use of the hard shoulder as a running-lane at peak times. Later incarnations have been known as Managed Motorways and more recently Smart Motorways and have been rolled out to many motorways across the country.
Tay Road Bridge.jpg 2008 February Tolls on the Forth Road Bridge and Tay Bridge are removed, leaving no tolled bridges in Scotland. Skye Bridge tolls had been removed in 2004 and Erskine Bridge tolls in 2006.
A74 cumberland.JPG 2008 5 December The missing link between the A74(M) and the M6 is finally completed, thus filling the Cumberland Gap and providing a continuous motorway between London and Glasgow for the first time.
In memoriam - Coppermine - 22038.jpg 2009 1 May The country's second oldest motorway, the M10, is downgraded to become part of the A414. This is one of only three motorway downgrades outside of London, the others being the A41(M) and A6144(M).


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