Fifty Years in the Making:
The M74 Reaches Glasgow
On 28th June 2011, the most anticipated section of motorway to be built in the UK for over a decade opened to traffic. At a cost of almost £700 million, the five mile long M74 Completion project is one of the most expensive roads ever built in Scotland.
The road provided an additional motorway route through the south of Glasgow, diverting thousands of vehicles a day away from the desperately congested Charing Cross and Kingston Bridge sections of the M8. Initial development on a motorway around the South of the city centre began in 1960.
(J1 - 2a)
A Highway Plan for Glasgow, published by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners (SWK) in 1965, recommended an urban motorway ring road of Glasgow City Centre with a series of radial routes meeting it at each corner. A route was proposed, entitled the “Hamilton Motorway” that would connect the south eastern corner of the Inner Ring Road to the M74 Hamilton Bypass. This route was planned to run in a corridor parallel to the A74 before running through Glasgow Green and meeting the East Flank of the ring road in the vicinity of Saltmarket. The road was intended to cater for traffic wishing to travel from west to south through the Glasgow area.
Throughout the 1970s, opposition to the completion of the ring road grew. SWK working on behalf of the newly formed Strathclyde Regional Council (SRC) carried out various studies into an acceptable and more environmentally friendly version of the ring road that would involve tunnels and cuttings. One major obstacle was the proposed interchange between the M74 and the East Flank within Glasgow Green. Their efforts proved fruitless and SRC abandoned plans for the remainder of the ring road in 1980.
In the city's original highway plan, the M74 would have interchanged with the East Flank of the Inner Ring Road at Glasgow Green. Environmental concerns led to a number of revisions before the plan was scrapped entirely.
In 1981, SRC began to consider alternative routes for connections around the south of the city centre. It was accepted that traffic movements in these directions needed to be catered for due to a lack of good existing surface streets and the first signs of congestion on the M8. Indeed, specific mention was made to the need for such a route in the first Regional Structure Plan.
During initial development of the Highway Plan, SWK had investigated a route for the Hamilton Motorway that ran parallel to the West Coast Railway Line. Glasgow Corporation was unconvinced and asked SWK to work solely within the plans for the ring road made in the Bruce Report of 1945.
On being re-appointed by SRC, SWK immediately returned to investigate this route, which although still located in an urban area, would benefit from being close to the busy railway line. This would reduce severance and allow utilisation of abandoned industrial sites. In the interim SRC (with the support of the Scottish Office) would continue to push forward with plans for an initial extension of the M74 from Maryville to Fullarton Road. The alignment of this part of the route had been agreed in the early 1970s. Construction was originally programmed to begin during 1981/82 but public spending cuts meant the route did not open until 1994.
Strathclyde Regional Council began the process of analysing alternative routes in the early 1980s. Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Holford Associates continued to provide input as they had in previous studies. More than ten revised corridors for the M74 were considered.
Throughout the 1980s, SRC continued to develop proposals for the final section of the M74. The project was considered alongside proposals for the Clyde Twin Bridges and the Townhead to London Road Link.
SRC settled on a line for the motorway in the late 1980s. It continued westwards from the extended M74 at Fullarton Road before turning south westwards towards the West Coast Rail Line near Cambuslang. From there, the route paralleled the railway until Cathcart Road before turning north westwards across several surface streets, including Pollokshaws Road, on an elevated viaduct. It connected with the M8 to the south west of the Kingston Bridge. The route first appeared in official publications from the Council around 1988, including the Regional Structure Plan.
In April 1993 Strathclyde Region appointed consultants Arup to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment into the proposed scheme. A multi volume report was published along with a video for the public. The report provided detail of the expected environmental impacts of the scheme - which would include increased noise and an adverse effect on air quality in areas around North Toryglen and Govanhill. Based on this scheme, it was envisaged that two churches, seven listed buildings, 100 commercial and 27 residential properties would have to be demolished. Further public consultations were held in 1995, prior to the granting of planning permission that October. The report was one of the first carried out on a major urban road proposal in the UK.
By the late 1980s, Strathclyde Regional Council had approved a revised corridor for the final section of the M74. This aligned the motorway with the West Coast Main Line to reduce the effects of community severance.
Design, Consultation and Protests
Following local government reorganisation in April 1996, the newly formed Glasgow City and South Lanarkshire Councils continued to lobby for construction of the scheme. By this stage minor alterations had been made to the proposal which removed connections with the Kingston Bridge and junctions with Cathcart Road and Glasgow Road. Contrary to press reports at the time the Strategic Roads Review, the findings of which were made public in November 1999, did not cancel the scheme but referred it back to local authorities for further development.
Following intense lobbying by Labour councillors, the scheme was fully adopted by the Scottish Executive in 2001. Glasgow, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Councils would contribute £20 million (over £31 million in 2017) to the scheme which was then estimated at cost of £250-300 million (£385-£465 million in 2017). In May 2002, design on the scheme began and it was revealed that the route would be no wider than 3 lanes in each direction. Around the same time a website and public consultation were launched and the scheme name was changed from M74 Northern Extension to M74 Completion. Glasgow City Council would remain the lead partner in the project.
Strathclyde Regional Council's plan for the M74 project included direction connections with Kingston Bridge. It would have seen the demolition of the "ski-ramps" constructed for the South Flank of the Inner Ring Road.
Very little modification was made to the accepted line of the route as determined by Strathclyde Region, except in the Polmadie area where it was altered to avoid the main west coast rail line depot. Extensive ground condition surveys were conducted in an attempt to determine the severity of contamination from decades of heavy industry, and a land acquisition process commenced.
Draft orders were published in March 2003 which received over 40 statutory and 300 individual objections. In June 2003 it was announced that a public local inquiry (PLI) would sit in Glasgow to consider the objections and provide a report and recommendation to the Scottish Executive.
By this stage a number of opposition groups had been set up to protest against the road – namely Joint Action against the M74 (JAM74). This organisation was set up by local residents and environmentalists with support from left wing politicians in the Scottish Socialist and Scottish Green Parties. They advocated a cancellation of the scheme with a reallocation of its budget to public transport schemes. The group gained a considerable public forum in May 2003 when the Socialists and Greens made significant gains in the Scottish Parliamentary election.
The extension of the M74 from Maryville Interchange to Fullarton Road was completed in the spring of 1994. The temporary terminus at its northern end remained unfinished for 17 years.
The PLI, chaired by Richard Hickman, commenced to much fanfare during December 2003, with protestors turning up on the first day dressed in pantomime costumes. They believed the PLI to be nothing more than a PR exercise – although they did take the opportunity to make serious contributions with a number of well known environmentalists and campaigners speaking on their behalf.
The inquiry concluded in early 2004 with a report and recommendation provided to the Executive in the summer. In late March 2005 after months of silence it was announced that the road orders were to be confirmed and the scheme constructed. The findings and recommendation of the reporter were also made public – controversially Hickman had recommended that the scheme not proceed due to adverse environmental and social effects. It was also said that the scheme would do little to alleviate traffic congestion in the long term.
The Executive rejected his view (which it was entitled to do under the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984), confirming the fears of the objectors that the entire consultation process was a sham. Pro-M74 opposition parties, such as the Scottish Conservatives, panned the Executive for sitting on the recommendation for months. During the statutory six week objection period JAM74, in conjunction with Friends of the Earth Scotland (FoES), lodged an appeal against the confirmed road orders at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. This would delay the scheme by at least twelve months and put a halt to the tender process.
By late 2009, construction of the flyovers linking the M74 with the M8 at Tradeston were at an advanced stage of construction.
During this delay it was decided to procure the scheme as a single construction contract rather than the several smaller contracts that had been previously advertised. It was announced in February 2006 that the case would be heard by Judges during late June. A protest against the supposed health impacts of the scheme was held outside the headquarters of Transport Scotland (the new agency set up to oversee transport in Scotland in January 2006) during May 2006 with a petition signed by over 20 health experts and GPs handed to the agency. For several weeks protest groups launched new websites, took out adverts on billboards and organised a variety of fundraising events to help them raise the estimated £30,000 required to continue with court action.
The case eventually began on the 27th June amidst a media frenzy, only to be dropped the following day when judges indicated they would not be accepting the basis of the appeal. Tens of millions of pounds had potentially been added to the cost of the project by legal action which had lasted only a few hours. The scheme’s last major planning obstacle had been overcome and the tender for construction could now begin.
Local groups such as No to the M74 and JAM74 joined forces with international organisations such as Friends of the Earth to use the planning system to their advantage in the hope of halting the scheme completely. Groups such as JAM74 were formed out of the direct action campaign against the construction of the M77 around Pollok Park - high profile members of each included former Socialist MSP Rosie Kane. The key message of their campaign was to highlight that the areas affected by the road suffered from high levels of deprivation and exceptionally low levels of car ownership. The group advocated spending the scheme's budget on public transport. JAM74 in particular organised successful community events, such as a flower bed adjacent to the proposed route near Eglinton Toll - these events helped to raise money for the campaign.
The tender process began in late 2006 with the announcement that a joint venture entitled Interlink M74, consisting of four of the UK’s largest construction firms (Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est, Morrison & Sir Robert McAlpine) would bid for the works. Complaints were raised by some objectors that this was anti-competitive under EU procurement law. However this was rejected, as independent auditors were being employed to assess the tender and provide detailed cost comparisons.
Construction began on 28th May 2008 with a groundbreaking ceremony carried out adjacent to Fullarton Road. Within a few months a busy construction site developed and hundreds of Interlink M74JV vehicles could be seen throughout the works area. The project was the biggest in Scotland at the time and, given its location, very easy to watch as it developed. The majority of 2008 was spent on piling operations and earthworks.
Port Eglinton Viaduct is one of the longest elevated structures on the Scottish motorway network. Its construction over the surface street network and two busy railway lines created many technical challenges.
By 2009 progress was obvious with the following milestones:
January - Paisley Road On-slip and Quay Road realignment works completed.
February - Work begins on Kingston Viaducts which will cross the M8.
March - First beams lifted into place at Farmeloan Underbridge. Work commences on Port Eglinton Viaduct near West Street.
April - All main earthworks completed.
July - Kingston eastbound viaduct beams lifted into place. Farmeloan Underbridge becomes first bridge completed.
August - Progress advanced at Fullarton Road bridges.
September - First Port Eglinton Viaduct beams lifted into position.
October - Glasgow Road Underbridge beams lifted into position. Existing overhead gantry at Fullarton Road removed.
Swift progress continued throughout 2010:
January - The launch of the westbound Port Eglinton Viaduct is completed. (See video opposite).
February - The beams at Polmadie Road Underbridge are lifted into position.
April - M8 link viaducts completed.
May - Rutherglen Station Viaduct beams lifted into position. (See video opposite)
June - Beams for Auchenshuggle Bridge over the River Clyde lifted into position. Port Eglinton eastbound launch completed. M8 gantry alterations begin.
August - Surfacing commences.
September - It is announced that the route will open in June 2011.
October - Installation of lighting columns commences.
November - Gantry erection commences.
The M74 Completion provided a second motorway link across the city, almost 50 years after one was first proposed. Its construction led to a decrease in traffic using the Inner Ring Road section of the M8.
Early 2011 saw all major elements completed and the final road take shape:
January - Auchenshuggle Bridge over the River Clyde completed.
April - Gantry works completed.
March - Central reserve completed.
May - Cathcart Road Overbridge completed.
June - The road opened to traffic at 19:30 on 28th June 2011.
The project included many civil engineering challenges, including the launch of the Port Eglinton Viaduct over the West Coast Mainline and working adjacent to the busy M8 at Kingston. The scheme was the first new urban motorway constructed in the UK for decades and most agree it was a complete success. It was completed on budget and slightly ahead of schedule despite the harsh winters of 2009 and 2010.
The completed project had an instant impact on traffic flows with several thousand vehicles removed from the busiest sections of M8 at peak times. Local routes in the southside of Glasgow also saw reduced traffic flows in double digit percentage figures with roads, such as Rutherglen High Street seeing large falls contributing to the local urban realm improvement. For several weeks during the summer holiday period there was virtually no congestion on the M8 at all. As traffic returned to normal in September, it was clear that the route would have a permanent impact with congestion on the westbound M8 cut by several miles. Some changes were noted to the west of the city where the M8 between junctions 22 and 25 became noticeably busier. This had been expected and the hard shoulders had been converted to running lanes in advance of the scheme opening. Traffic on the M77 between Plantation (J22) and Dumbreck Road (J1) also increased and there has been some congestion on this stretch as a result.
By 2013 over 25,000 vehicles had been removed from the Inner Ring Road section of the M8, with an average of 65,000 using the M74. Traffic on the Renfrew Motorway section between junctions 22 and 25 had increased by more than 10,000 vehicles per day. Flows on south side surface streets remain considerably lower than before the route opened.
This article was first published in December 2020.
> M74 Completion
> From Concept to Cancellation: The Story of Glasgow's Inner Ring Road
> Highway Over the Clyde: The Kingston Bridge, Part 1