The Hamilton Bypass was the first part of the M74 motorway to be completed, and one of Scotland's first motorways. Bypassing some of Lanarkshire's biggest towns, the route provided an immediate solution to chronic traffic congestion.
The scheme was opened to traffic in three stages and built as two separate contracts. The contract for construction of Stage 1 was let in May 1964. Construction began on site on June 5th with the first sod cut by Mr Dan McLear from Hamilton. Stage 2 followed in autumn 1965.
Today the route carries over 90,000 vehicles per day and remains a crucial link in the central Scotland motorway system.
M74 (J6 - 9)
M74 (J4 - 6)
1 and 2
Babtie, Shaw and
Tarmac Civil Engineering
2nd December 1966
14th May 1968 (J5-6)
2nd August 1968 (J4-5)
Planning and Design
A bypass of the existing A74 through Larkhall, Hamilton, Bothwell and Uddingston had been considered since the early 1950s. A preliminary study of Lanarkshire’s road network undertaken by County Surveyor Colonel T. U. Wilson re-iterated the need for such a route, particularly given increasing levels of congestion along the urban sections of the A74. As road transportation increased the A74 became the preferred route between Scotland and England, with around 75% of all cross border traffic using it. In 1954 the Ministry of Transport published orders promoting a special road through the Clyde Valley to the north of the urban centres, although there was limited progress thereafter.
In 1960 the Scottish Development Department (SDD), in conjunction with Lanark County Council (LCC), ordered a comprehensive traffic study be undertaken. The study, centred on Hamilton, was tasked with determining whether the bypass should be constructed as a motorway or all-purpose road, and the location of interchanges. Babtie, Shaw & Morton concluded that 80,000 vehicles per day would likely be using the route by 1980 thereby justifying its construction as a motorway. A motorway was found to offer maximum benefits with regards to journey time improvements and reductions in accident numbers. A mix of dual two and three lane carriageways was recommended to ensure provision for future growth. Interchanges with the A71, A72, A723, A725 and a link road to the A80 were considered essential.
Babtie, Shaw and Morton was appointed Consulting Engineer for the M74 Hamilton Bypass project in 1960. They produced a variety of models, such as that above of Baillieston Interchange to assist with their design work.
On completion of the study the SDD appointed Babtie to proceed with the investigation and design stages with a view of construction commencing some time prior to 1963. To spread the cost of the scheme over a five year period it was decided to split the scheme into two construction contracts. Stage 1 would cover the dual two lane section, approximately 9 miles in length from Draffan to Hamilton. Stage 2 would cover the dual three lane section, approximately 4 miles in length from Hamilton to Maryville.
By aligning the M74 corridor to the east of Larkhall, Hamilton and Uddingston there was a considerable reduction in the amount of property to be acquired. Poor ground conditions, old mine workings and flooding considerations aside the route offered the most economical solution. Design work was preceded by a full site investigation which was completed in 1961. These revealed several problems along the intended line of the road:
Various shallow and deep mine workings
Soft plastic alluvial clays – settlement of up to 400mm could be expected
Fine sands and silts in some locations
Frequent flooding of the Hamilton Low Parks area
Although not ideal, these issues were not of a severity likely to create any considerable barriers to construction and would be treated at that stage. A detailed hydrological study was undertaken and it was shown that construction of the route and its embankments and structures would have a minimal impact on existing flood levels. Consideration was given to the removal of a submerged rock weir and replacement of Bothwell Bridge over the River Clyde to the west of Hamilton to reduce flooding of the Low Parks, however this was ruled out on cost grounds. The model indicated that Clyde Bridge on the A723 between Hamilton and Motherwell was vulnerable to high floods and the bridge was strengthened as a result. A diversion of the River Avon would be necessary to accommodate the A723 interchange and the construction of the Avon Bridge to the south of it.
Hamilton Interchange (Junction 6), is one of only a few fully directional, free-flow motorway interchanges in Scotland. Sprawling across more than eighty acres, it's also one of the largest.
The motorway was designed as a mix of rural and semi urban carriageway and junctions were spaced accordingly. Interchanges at the A72 and A725 were not necessarily justifiable at this stage but were constructed to allow for future growth. Over forty bridges were proposed and these varied in size from small single span footbridges to large multi-span rail and river crossings. Typical designs were adopted to ensure quick construction and to maximise the re-use of concrete shuttering and reduce overall costs. Aesthetic considerations also influenced the final design of these structures to ensure they did not dominate their surroundings too much.
Draft orders for the entire route were published in 1962 at which time it was stated that construction on Stage 1 was expected to commence before the end of 1963. This was delayed when negotiations with adjacent landowners took longer to resolve than anticipated. A tender exercise was undertaken concurrently and contractor Christiani Shand was awarded the Stage 1 construction contract in May 1964. Construction works commenced on June 5th. The Stage 2 contract was awarded to Tarmac Civil Engineering (Ltd) in September 1965 with construction commencing shortly afterwards.
The motorway was designed in accordance with the “flowing alignment” design concept with much of the early work done on models. A sample of these models can be seen in the “Motorway 74” film released shortly after the completion of Stage 1. In general hot rolled asphalt surfacing was recommended throughout the project with various coloured chippings to be utilised for the main carriageways, slip roads and hard shoulders. A decision was taken to construct the two mile stretch between the A723 (J6) and the A72 (J7) interchanges in concrete to test its durability under Scottish climate conditions. This remained in place until the year 2001, after 35 years of continued use, demonstrating that concrete pavements could operate effectively in such varied weather conditions.
Considerable earthworks were required in Stage 2 of the project, particularly near the Bothwell and Uddingston areas where the motorway was constructed in cutting. Important local roads were retained and carried across the motorway on overbridges.
The Hamilton Bypass was the most extensive motorway constructed in Scotland to that point, and one of the largest civil engineering projects undertaken at the time. Construction of the Stage 1 contract took approximately two and a half years to complete. Stage 2, being slightly more complex, took almost three from its start date in autumn 1965.
Considerable earthworks were required along the route and a haul road through the corridor was constructed as a priority to enable easy movement of plant and materials. Earthworks problems resulted in delays to Stage 2 of the project. The fill material initially intended for use was found to be unsuitable and a new supply had to be shipped in from West Lothian. This was at high cost to the contractor. The corridor chosen was mostly free of property and only a handful of properties were demolished in advance. These lay mostly at the western end of the project.
A network of footways, carried over motorway slip roads on footbridges, were constructed between Hamilton and Motherwell to maintain pedestrian links between the two towns. The A723 was improved to near-motorway standard as part of the project.
Vast quantities of peat were removed, a common problem for roads schemes in the west of Scotland, although it was used as fill on marshland to create new agricultural land. In some locations shallow rock had to be removed from the locations of some deeper cuttings. In addition to this old mine workings were infilled to ensure any future subsidence was minimised. All structures (a total of 42 were required) were piled for this reason. On the whole the structures were generally straight forward to construct. The main exceptions were Raith Bridge over the River Clyde, Uddingston Junction Rail Bridge over the West Coast Mainline and the complex bridges required at Maryville.
At Raith, a German technique was used in the UK for the first time, with the box girders constructed on site and then launched into position from one end. This was undertaken during the winter of 1966/67 and this method is now common practice. The impressive structures at Maryville with their inclined blue piers, made use of concrete and steel construction. Works on these structures were carried out mostly during 1967 and 68.
Significant delays were experienced during the winters of 1964 and 1965 with work halted for several weeks at a time due to poor weather. Heavy rainfall in particular caused a multitude of problems in the Hamilton Low Parks area. With the exception of 2 miles, the entire project was built with a flexible pavement.
Under road heating was provided on some steeper parts of the route although it was never utilised to any great extent. In the south, the motorway terminated on the A74 Blackwood Bypass, completed only a few years earlier. In the north, the motorway ended on a temporary, at-grade connection with the A74 adjacent to Calderpark Zoo. Allowance was made for the motorway's eventual extension to Glasgow.
This aerial photo, taken in the autumn of 1976, illustrates clearly the scale of Renfrew Motorway around Plantation. It is the second widest section of motorway in the UK with sixteen traffic lanes spread across four carriageways.
Between Junctions 6 and 8 the motorway was built with two lanes and a hard shoulder in each direction. The concrete carriageway constructed in the southbound direction between Hamilton and Larkhall can be seen in this photo from late 1966.
To the north west of Hamilton the motorway travels through the Hamilton Low Parks. Two historically significant sites lie on either side of the motorway at this location. The first, Mote Hill, is thought to have been the location of a castle occupied by King Rederech and Queen Langoreth. They were King & Queen of Cadzow in the 6th Century.
The second site, located on the north side of the motorway was, was the original location of the Netherton Cross. This significant religious monument was erected in the 10th or 11th century and stood on the site until the 1920s. It was later moved to Hamilton Parish Church to ensure its preservation, and a marker post was erected at the original site.
Works to widen the M74 provided an opportunity to carry out investigations into the site and its interesting past. Archaeologists from GUARD, working on behalf of Transport Scotland, made several discoveries including medieval buildings thought to be from the lost village of Cadzow. Given the importance of both sites, Babtie Shaw & Morton is thought to have tailored the line of the Hamilton Bypass to avoid them.
Stage 1 was completed and opened to traffic at 14:00 on December 2nd 1966, following an opening ceremony by Willie Ross MP. Stage 2 (from Hamilton to Raith) was opened to traffic at 11:00 on 14th May 1968 with Raith to Maryville following on August 2nd.
Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross MP cuts the ribbon at the opening of Stage 1 on 2nd December 1966. The project saw immediate reductions in journey times and accident rates, removing thousands of vehicles from the substandard A74.
Until 1994 the motorway terminated at a signalised junction with the A74 at Calderpark. Gantry signs were installed in the early 1970s to direct drivers as they joined the motorway system. They were connected to the CITRAC communications system.
Until recently there had been very few alterations to the original Hamilton Bypass route. Connections to the M73 opened in mid-1971 with SOS phones and central reserve barriers added throughout the rest of that decade. In the early 1980s the Hamilton and Bothwell Service areas opened. These has been intended open shortly after the route was completed. In the late 80s the A74 south from Draffan was converted to motorway standards and the section between Maryville and Hamilton was illuminated. Completion of the Bellshill Bypass and the East Kilbride Express dramatically increased the importance (and traffic flows) through Raith Interchange. The late 80s also saw the junctions of the route renumbered. Initially they were numbered from south to north, reversed when the motorway began to expand towards Carlisle.
The first significant changes occurred in the early 1990s when alterations were made at Maryville to accommodate the motorway as it was extended northwards into Glasgow. At the same time concrete overhead sign gantries were added, extending the Glasgow CITRAC control system into Lanarkshire. Major refurbishment work of Raith Bridge over the River Clyde was undertaken in the early 2000s.
By the mid-2000s parts of the route were starting to experience congestion. This was focussed on the northbound carriageway approaches to both Raith Interchange and Maryville. Southbound queues were common on the approach to Hamilton. Traffic flows had increased to more than 90,000 vehicles per day, mostly as a result of increases in peak time commuter traffic. As part of traffic modelling for the M74 Completion and M8 Baillieston to Newhouse schemes, it was identified that additional congestion would be likely at Maryville and on the M74 as traffic behaviour changed. Additionally, congestion at Raith Interchange had steadily worsened since the completion of the East Kilbride Expressway, with the junction increasingly over capacity. Plans for an underpass for A725 traffic had been considered since the early 1990s.
By the early 1990s, traffic congestion at Raith Interchange, or Junction 5, led to improvement studies. In 2014, construction commenced on an underpass to cater for through traffic. This, in conjunction with other improvements, resulted in a considerable improvement in journey times.
In response, Transport Scotland promoted the Raith Interchange and M8, M73, M74 Network Improvements Schemes (ultimately combined with the M8 Baillieston to Newhouse scheme). As part of these projects, which were completed in 2017, Raith Interchange was significantly upgraded and provided with an underpass, and the M74 gained an additional lane on sections between J4 and 6. Overhead sign gantries and other enhancements, including changes to Daldowie junction, were also constructed.
From the Archive
This article was first published in December 2020. Updated November 2022.
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