The Secret History of the Motorway

Low Priority: 1979 - 1988

In 1979, there was a change of Government. Any thoughts that there might be a different view of motorways from the corridors of power were misplaced, however.

Whilst the roads budget held up pretty well, it was starting to get obvious that more and more of that budget was being spent on maintenence work rather than new construction. The scaled-down motorway programme continued - and top priority was given to that most bodged together motorway, the M25, with only a few longer-distance routes having survived the 1970s culls - most notably the M40 between Oxford and Birmingham, and the M8 across central Scotland, though even these progressed at the pace of a snail carrying a lot of very heavy shopping whilst trying to cross a frozen wasteland in shorts. Even relatively important linking motorways such as M42 and M63 opened short sections at a time. The completion of M54, and construction of an odd bit of M65 that went from nowhere in particular to nothing much and connected to, well, nothing else was about as exciting as it got.

In many ways, the 1980s are the dullest period of motorway history. The country simply had more important things to worry about (like 3 million people unemployed), and all the initial enthusiasm was gone.

Even the Road Construction Units were for the chop - killed off in favour of private consultants. Britain simply didn't do motorways any more.

And remember the "second thousand miles by the early 1980s" target set by the Government back in 1970? As you might guess, it was missed by miles.

This is dull.

Not quite - the highlight of the motorway network opened in 1987 - the A6144(M) Carrington Spur...

Yes, very amusing. Not.

I know - but there's simply not a lot to say. In 1987 and 1988 combined, a grand total of 6.6 miles was opened - and that little lot also included the great southern section of the A601(M) too.

Is there nothing here?

Erm, well, Margaret Thatcher personally opened the last section of M25 - something that Prime Ministers simply didn't do.

Oh, my. How on earth am I managing to keep my excitement under control?

I don't really know.

Things were, however, about to take a turn for the more interesting...

Last Hurrah >>

The Secret History of the Motorway



Early Struggles

Indifference to Acceptance

The Tide Turns

The Special Roads Act

The Preston Bypass

The M1, M10 and M45

The Motorway Age

Plans, Big Plans

Low Priority

Last Hurrah

Much Ado About Nothing Much

What of the Future?




Maps and Plans


Further Reading


See Also:

50 years of Motorways