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M8 Motorway

Edinburgh to Langbank

The M8 motorway connects the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh. It is of great economic importance to Scotland and is a strategic transport link. It was built in several stages, the majority of which were completed between 1965 and 1980. The route has both rural and urban characteristics, and with traffic flows upwards of 150,000 vehicles per day, is amongst the busiest motorways in Europe. What was once known as the Glasgow Inner Ring Road makes up the urban section to the north and west of Glasgow city centre.

M8 motorway - Baillieston Interchange (May 2018)

Route History

By 1960, the Scottish Office had a stated desire to upgrade the A8 between Greenock and Edinburgh as part of plans to modernise Scotland’s infrastructure and provide a much-needed boost to economic output. Government White Papers, notably 1963’s “Central Scotland: A Programme for Growth”, reinforced this intention, although it wasn’t until nearer 1965 that it was confirmed which sections of the route would be completed to motorway standard.


The Scottish Office took the lead in developing contracts in conjunction with the local authorities in all areas except Glasgow. Here the council developed their own plans, published within 1965’s “A Highway Plan for Glasgow”, although these proposals allowed for connections to the new east-west route.


Target 1 of Glasgow’s plan intended that the M8 between Hillington and Baillieston (including the Glasgow Inner Ring Road north and west flanks) would be completed by 1975. This was achieved by April 1980, with construction taking place in phases from November 1965. The completed route, approximately 20 miles long, cost around £120 million to build and is valued at more £1.5 billion in today’s prices. The route was completed through several major construction contracts, some of which were of considerable scale. These schemes were provided with 75% grant assistance from the Scottish Development Department.

M8 Construction Summary



Opening Date

Harthill Bypass

4 - 5

1st December 1965

West of Harthill to Newhouse

5 - 6

24th August 1967

Renfrew Bypass

26 - 29a

18th March 1968

Glasgow Inner Ring Road

Townhead and Woodside 1

15 - 16

7th April 1968

Dechmont to Whitburn

3 - 4

23rd September 1969

Glasgow Inner Ring Road

Kingston Bridge & Approaches

19 - 20

26th June 1970

Newbridge to Dechmont

2 - 3

30th November 1970

Bishopton Bypass Stage 1

29a - 30

27th December 1970

Glasgow Inner Ring Road

Woodside 2

16 - 17

7th May 1971

Glasgow Inner Ring Road

Charing Cross Section

17 - 19

4th February 1972

Monkland Motorway Stage 1

12 - 15

30th May 1975

Bishopton Bypass Stage 2

30 - 31

18th November 1975

Renfrew Motorway Stage 1

20 - 24

15th October 1976

Renfrew Motorway Stage 2

24 - 26

15th October 1976

Monkland Motorway Stage 2A

11 - 12

29th June 1979

Monkland Motorway Stage 2B

9 - 11

25th April 1980

City Boundary to Baillieston


25th April 1980

St. James Interchange


17th August 1993

City Bypass to Newbridge

1 - 2

11th December 1995

Baillieston to Newhouse

6 - 8

April 2017 (Phased)

To the east of the city, the Scottish Office and Lanarkshire County Council commenced work on two projects. The first of these was the upgrade of the A8 between Baillieston and Newhouse to grade separated dual carriageway which began construction in 1960. This was followed shortly after by the construction of a section of new M8 between Newhouse and Whitburn. This section, which replaced the A8 single three lane carriageway, became the first section of M8 to open to traffic. To the west, Renfrew County promoted bypasses of Renfrew and Bishopton, completed between 1968 and 1975.


West of Bishopton, the route was constructed as dual carriageway, with work completed by the mid-1980s. The eastern sections between Newbridge and Whitburn were completed in the early 1970s, with an extension to the A720 Edinburgh City Bypass completed in 1995.

Route Overview

Junctions on the M8 are numbered from east to west, from Junction 1 (Hermiston Gait) to Junction 31 (West Ferry). Between Junctions 1 and 8 (Baillieston Interchange), the motorway is constructed to rural standards, with longer distances between junctions, and generally only two running lanes in each direction. The section between Junction 1 and 2 (Claylands/M9) was completed in 1995. Prior to this the eastern terminus of the motorway was at the at-grade Newbridge Roundabout.


The route between Junction 2 and Junction 6 was completed throughout the 1960s and 70s in several construction contracts. Harthill Services, the M8's only motorway service area, located roughly half was between Junction 4A (Heartlands) and Junction 5 (Shotts) were completed in 1969, at a cost of £303,926. They continue to operate today, having been extensively refurbished in the mid-2000s. A replacement helical truss footbridge was provided at this time, and has become something of an iconic feature of the M8.


The section between Junction 6 (Newhouse) and 8 was only completed in 2017 after many years of planning. It is up to four lanes wide in each direction, however only two lanes are provided for through traffic. Prior to this traffic used a six mile section of A8 dual carriageway, which was widened and grade-separated in the early 1960s. Peak time congestion is a regular feature of both carriageways, with traffic flows and incidents regularly causing miles of slow traffic. Prior to 1997, the Scottish Office had intended to progressively widen the route to three lanes as traffic flows increased. The section between Junctions 5 and 6 was expected to be completed first. Junction 3A (Starlaw) was constructed in the 1988/89, with Junction 4A following in the early 2010s.

M8 motorway - Harthill Footbridge (2018).

From Junction 8 the road becomes urban in nature. From here to Junction 15 (Townhead) the M8 was built in several stages as the Monkland Motorway. Named after the canal, the solum of which the route follows towards the city centre. The M8 on this stretch is three lanes wide with full hard shoulders as far as Junction 12 (Cumbernauld Road) where it widens to four. The geometric layout of Junction 11 (Stepps Road) and Junction 13 (Provan) was designed in such a way that the proposed Stirling and North Link Motorway’s could be accommodated later. A watered down M80 Stepps Bypass was eventually constructed in 1992. From Provan to Townhead the road widens to five lanes with intermittent hard shoulders. It was originally constructed with four lanes, thought to be the first planned section of four lane motorway in the UK. Several features unique to the Glasgow motorway system are first seen on this section, including internally illuminated overhead sign gantries, high mast lighting and the polished aggregate finished retaining walls. The various Monkland Motorway schemes were completed in the mid to late 1970s.


The section of M8 from Junction 15 to 17 (St. George’s Cross) was constructed in two contracts as part of the North Flank of the Glasgow Inner Ring Road. Here, the road initially drops to three lanes in each direction, before widening again to the east of Junction 16 (Port Dundas). From Junction 17 the road rises onto two elevated viaducts which skirt around the north of Cowcaddens, crossing Garscube and New City Roads in the process. Partially constructed slip roads can be seen be seen mid-way along this section. These were constructed to allow for a future connection to the Maryhill Motorway. This section of M8 is famous for the slip roads which join the motorway on the right-hand side. Extensive works were undertaken in early to mid-1990s to provide additional traffic capacity, however this section still suffers from daily congestion. Construction on this section began in 1965 and was completed in 1971.

M8 motorway - Townhead Interchange (Spring 2020)

At Junction 18 (Charing Cross) the motorway reduces temporarily to two lanes in each direction. This bottleneck severely limits the capacity of the M8 through the city centre and contributes to the congestion which has been present since the summer of 1980. Turning southwards, the road proceeds through Charing Cross in cutting, passing beneath Sauchiehall Street in an underpass. The road passes the Mitchell Library and under several other streets, still with only two lanes for through traffic. After passing Junction 19 (Anderston) and a connection the Clydeside Expressway, the road rises as it approaches the iconic Kingston Bridge. The structure, which is ten lanes wide, is one of the busiest urban road crossings in Europe and is used by over 150,000 vehicles every week day. The Charing Cross section of the motorway, completed in early 1972, was the most controversial of all the M8 projects completed. Several thousand homes, in varying states, were demolished for the Comprehensive Development Areas, of which the Inner Ring Road was a key part. The Kingston Bridge has been extensively refurbished since the mid-1990s, with some slip roads reconstructed and the main bridge strengthened. Incomplete slip roads at Junction 20 (Tradeston) are a visible reminder of the intended connection to the unbuilt South Flank of the Inner Ring Road.


After Junction 20, the motorway sweeps westwards, skirting between Scotland Street and Tradeston. The section from here to Junction 26 (Hillington) was constructed in two concurrent stages as the Renfrew Motorway from 1973 to 1976. The Stage 1 contract, which extended to Junction 24 (Helen Street), is most famous for its braided carriageways. Here, 16 lanes of traffic provide connections between the M8, M74 and M77 motorways. It was designed to reduce weaving traffic and improve safety. It remains the second widest stretch of motorway in the UK, beaten only by the M60/M61 Interchange in Manchester. The connection with the M74 was completed in 2011, slightly west of the originally planned link with the South Flank of the Inner Ring Road.


Another key feature of this section is the Scotland Street Viaduct, provided to cross the now closed railway line to General Terminus Quay. At Junction 22 (Plantation), the M77 heads south via two curved ramps. The number of traffic lanes reduces to four lanes with intermittent hard shoulder in each direction. At Junction 23 (Ibrox) traffic from the M74 finally merges with the M8 mainline. Access to the junction is restricted to M74 traffic only for safety and weaving reasons. From Junction 24 the speed limit increases to 70mph. Stage 2 of the Renfrew Motorway extended from Helen Street to Hillington, with a major interchange provided at the A739 Clyde Tunnel Expressway at Junction 25 (Cardonald). The road varies in width from three to four lanes wide with hard shoulders as far as Junction 26. At Junction 25 some slip roads are particularly wide or have large dead areas. This is a visible reminder of the intended connection with the South Link Motorway, a route that would have provided connections to the south of the city, as well as east to south movements to the M77 from the M8. Junction 25a (Braehead) was constructed in 1998 to serve the new shopping centre and industrial development. A two-lane spur leaves the motorway and ends on a signalised junction adjacent to the shopping centre main car park. In recent years, congestion has become a major problem on this part of the route with peak time delays experienced on most weekdays.

M8 motorway - Westbound at J23 Ibrox (June 2014)

Hillington Junction was completed in March 1968 as the eastern terminus of the Renfrew Bypass. This was the first section of M8 to open in the west of the country, constructed in a corridor between the towns of Paisley and Renfrew. Today, it is one of the busiest junctions on the entire route and congestion is common at peak times. From Hillington to Junction 27 (Renfrew Road) the motorway continues as three lanes in each direction with hard shoulders provided almost continuously. The straight section of carriageway immediately east of Arkleston was constructed on the line of the runway of the former Renfrew Airport. A new footbridge was constructed in 2014 linking the Arkleston area with the Hillington Industrial Estate, replacing an original structure which was severely damaged by an over-height vehicle. Glasgow style sign gantries were added to the route in 1994 as part of an expansion of the Strathclyde Region CITRAC system.


At Junction 27 the road turns north westwards, passing south of Glasgow Airport which opened in May 1966. The White Cart Water is crossed by the 800m long, 25m high multi-span White Cart Viaduct. It was built high above the water level to allow access to Paisley Harbour, a harbour that had closed by the time the motorway was completed. The viaduct was extensively refurbished during the early 2000s, with strengthening required due to the amount of traffic using it. The viaduct is three lanes wide with no hard shoulders and stunning views of the southern highlands can be enjoyed on clear days. The speed limit reduces initially to 60mph over the viaduct, then further still to 50mph.


From Junction 28 (Glasgow Airport) to Junction 29 (St. James Interchange) the motorway is considerably changed from its original design. In the early 1990s, severe congestion at St. James roundabout led to the construction of two free flow flyovers to provide links with the A737. The project cost over £30 million and created two iconic M8 features in the process. They were completed in August 1993, with works including the installation of sign gantries and revised access to Glasgow Airport. The motorway reduces to two lanes wide with hard shoulders as it passes beneath St. James Roundabout, with the speed limit returning to 70mph. From here the motorway regains its rural characteristics, with no street lighting or overhead signage provided.


After Junction 29 the motorway passes the western end of the Glasgow Airport runway and travels parallel to the main Greenock railway line. A new junction, 29a, was built to serve the town of Bishopton in 2019. The junction has east-facing slip roads only and was constructed by the developer behind the Bishopton Ordnance site redevelopment. Approximately half a mile west, Junction 30 (Craigton) provides direct access to the M898 and the Erskine Bridge. On approach to Junction 31 (West Ferry), excellent views of the Firth of Clyde are enjoyed on what is the quietest section of the entire route. On passing the westbound off slip the route becomes classified as A8 as it continues its journey towards Greenock. Constructed as Stages 1 and 2 of the Bishopton Bypass, this section was completed as far as Junction 30 in 1970, and Junction 31 in 1975.

From the Archive


This article was first published in November 2020. Last updated October 2022.

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