The Renfrew Bypass
Completed in March 1968, the 6.5 mile long Renfrew Bypass was the first section of M8 to open in the Glasgow area. The route stretches from Hillington (J26) to Bishopton (J29A). It forms a bypass of Paisley and Renfrew and provides a vital connection to Glasgow Airport.
Major features of the route include the White Cart Viaduct, near Glasgow Airport, and the twin viaducts of the St James Interchange constructed in the early 1990s. This section of the motorway is also well known for having been constructed along a length of the former Renfrew Airport runway.
(J26 - 29a)
& Peter Lind Co.
Planning and Construction
The Renfrew Bypass was not developed as part of “A Highway Plan for Glasgow”. As with all motorways outside the City of Glasgow boundary, the route of the road was developed as part of a study led by the Scottish Development Department and Renfrew County Council. It was first detailed in a 1963 Scottish Office white paper entitled "Central Scotland - A Programme for Development & Growth". The council appointed Crouch and Hogg as Consulting Engineers for the project in the early 1960s.
Earlier investigations for a bypass of Renfrew were concerned with a route to the north of the burgh due to restrictions created by Renfrew Airport and Hillington Industrial Estate. The decision to close Renfrew Airport and transfer the airfield to Abbotsinch solved this problem but the need for a good quality connection to Glasgow remained. The new airport opened in May 1966.
White Cart Viaduct, at over 800m in length, is one of the longest sections of elevated motorway on the Scottish motorway network. It crosses White Cart Water at a height of over 20 metres.
Two factors had a bearing on route selection and the profile of the new road. Firstly, the requirements of flight clearances and possible future runway extensions at Glasgow Airport dictated the limits of the land available. Secondly, the existence of Paisley Harbour and a ship building yard on White Cart Water dictated a need for a high level structure which would allow ships to reach Paisley and provide sufficient clearance for newly launched craft to pass beneath.
Within months of the start of construction, the Paisley Harbour went into administration and never reopened. It is almost certainly the case that no large vessels have ever sailed under the White Cart Viaduct as a result.
At Renfrew Road a fire station was demolished to make way for the motorway. Unusually for a motorway passing close to urban areas, the Renfrew Motorway required only minimal property acquisition.
Original plans for the route had the section of bypass west of St James Interchange as an all-purpose dual carriageway. The motorway was to have continued to the south west (via a large flyover) towards Linwood. These plans were changed during the construction phase, and the proposed all-purpose section was built to motorway standard. Revised Roads Orders allowing for this change were published and construction proceeded with the addition of hard shoulders. The Linclive Link Road and Linwood Bypass were downgraded to standard dual carriageway.
The reasons for this late reconfiguration are not entirely clear, however, lobbying from local politicians, such as Sir Dr James MacFarlane, for a motorway to Port Glasgow was probably a contributing factor.
Construction commenced in 1965 and involved a remarkably small disturbance to property and severance of land. Demolition of properties was confined to an inn, three prefabricated houses, two small farm steadings and a temporary fire station.
The eastern terminus of the Renfrew Bypass was the A8 trunk road at Hillington. It remained disconnected from the Glasgow Inner Ring Road for over 8 years until the Renfrew Motorway was completed in Autumn 1976.
In the west the motorway terminated on the A8 at Bishopton. This remained the case until Stage 1 of the Bishopton Bypass was completed in late 1970, though the junction with the A8 remained in use until November 1975. It reopened in December 2019 as junction 29a. The new junction was funded by BAE Systems as part of their redevelopment of the Bishopton Ordnance Site. Design work was by Dougall Baillie Associates with construction by Morgan Sindall.
As one of Scotland's earliest motorways, the Renfrew Bypass has seen several changes in its lifetime. Central reservation barriers were added in the early 1970s and overhead sign gantries were installed in 1994.
From Airport Runway to M8 Motorway
The straight section of motorway that runs between Hillington (J26) and Arkleston (J27) was originally the runway of Renfrew Airport. The airport, which started its life as a military airfield, closed on 2nd May 1966. It was replaced by Glasgow Airport, which was constructed to the west at Abbotsinch. This was necessary to cater for increased demand for air travel across Scotland, but also to accommodate larger aircraft. The new airport was built with a connection to the new motorway in mind.
In recent years, this section of motorway has seen several minor alterations, specifically the provision of an extended westbound slip road from J26 at Hillington. This was added to allow traffic to merge safely with motorway traffic. This section has three lanes and a hard shoulder in each direction with a 70mph speed limit.
A pedestrian footbridge crosses the motorway mid-way along, connecting Renfrew with Arkleston Cemetery and Hillington Industrial Estate. The footbridge, which was prone to bridge strikes, was replaced with a new single span steel structure in 2015.
A section of the motorway between Hillington and Paisley was constructed on the line of the Renfrew Airport runway. It's seen here from the west in December 1965, a few months before its closure.
White Cart Viaduct
White Cart Viaduct, located between junctions 27 and 28, is one of the longest sections of elevated motorway in Scotland, coming in at over 820m. The structure has a clearance of 21m above high tide of White Cart Water, provided to permit access to shipyards in Paisley.
The structure has a curved radius of 1,270m and a river span of almost 80m. Its twin trapezoidal steel box girders are almost 2m deep and 4.5m wide. These form a 'spine' on which the 200mm thick concrete deck rests. Over 5,000 tonnes of structural steelwork and 2,400 tonnes of steel "H" piles were used in its construction. Over 7,000m³ of concrete was used in its construction.
Most of the space beneath the western end viaduct is occupied by car parking for airport staff. East of the river the viaduct passes through the site of a sewage treatment works. The viaduct was extensively refurbished from 2005 to 2013.
From the Archive
This article was first published in October 2020. Updated February 2023.
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