The Inner Ring Road was a proposed motorway around the city centre of Glasgow. Only its north and west flanks were constructed, today part of the M8 motorway between Townhead Interchange and the Kingston Bridge. First mooted in Robert Bruce’s “First Planning Report” of 1945, formal proposals were not outlined until the publication of the “Interim Report on the Glasgow Inner Ring Road” in 1962. This report, produced by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners on behalf of Glasgow Corporation, was the first of many recommending radical solutions to solve the city’s growing traffic problem.
This article details the design and construction of the Woodside Section, delivered in two major contracts between 1967 and 1971. It completed the ring road’s northern flank. The project involved the construction of the elevated Woodside Viaducts, pedestrian underpasses, extensive alterations to the existing street pattern and the first stage of an interchange with the proposed, and ultimately cancelled, Maryhill Motorway.
Planning and Construction
Stage 1 of the Woodside Section was constructed concurrently with Townhead Interchange. Lacking any considerable engineering features, lower than expected tenders allowed for it to be brought forward, extending the Townhead contract to Craighall Road. Advanced works were also undertaken around Garscube Road and Dobbies Loan to prepare for the subsequent construction phase. Construction on this section began on 3rd April 1967 and was completed at the same time as Townhead Interchange in April 1968.
A junction was included at Craighall Road (and Canal Street in the westbound direction). Now junction 16, it is a half diamond design with east facing slips roads. It was originally provided with a roundabout - this was removed during widening works in the early 1990s and replaced with a signalised/traffic signal-controlled junction.
The surface streets adjacent to the motorway act as distributor roads. These were designed to cater for high volumes of traffic entering the north of the city centre from the east, and traffic lights feature heavily in this area as a result. From here the motorway begins to climb towards the elevated twin viaducts at Woodside. A pedestrian footbridge from North Wallace Street to Sighthill was constructed to maintain pedestrian links with areas to the north of the city centre. It was demolished in 2020 and is in the process of being replaced with a new modern structure.
Stage 1 of the Woodside Section was constructed at the same time as Townhead Interchange, the first section of motorway opened within the City of Glasgow. Early schemes trialled new ideas such as high mast lighting and "Botts' dots" lane markings.
This section of the Inner Ring Road initially featured unusual lane markings. Known as “Botts' Dots”, these markings were trialled in place of typical UK white lining and are commonly found on freeways in the USA. They were formed from small reflectorised studs cored into the road surface and remained in place until around 1975. Combined with the right hand entrance and exit slip roads approaching Townhead Interchange, these are another example of the American influence on the Glasgow motorway system.
Notably, the bridges over Craighall Road were constructed as part of the Stage 1 contract but not connected to the motorway system until the completion of Stage 2 in May 1971.
As part of the Woodside Stage 1 contract, advanced works such as the construction of bridges at Craighall Road and alterations to Dobbies Loan were constructed. Part of the canal basin at Pinkston was also infilled.
The Woodside Stage 2 contract is almost entirely elevated, carrying the Inner Ring Road on two multi span viaducts which are 365m and 460m long respectively. These are known as the Woodside Viaducts. The route corridor was chosen as it lay to the north of the Cowcaddens Comprehensive Development Area (CDA). An elevated road was always going to be necessary in this location to ensure that the network of surface streets could be retained.
Work commenced on site in January 1969 and involved the construction of seven road bridges, two footbridges, two underpasses, eleven retaining walls and extensive modification of the surface street network. The creation of new distributor roads (Phoenix Road) and improved access to Great Western Road were also a key part of the contract. The motorway was constructed on viaducts to ensure free passage of vehicles and pedestrians below and to ensure environmental continuity at ground level. At the western end of the contract considerable clearance of property was required. This was undertaken throughout the late 1960s as part of the Cowcaddens and St. George's Cross CDA proposals.
As with Stage 1, the scheme was designed by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick, with architectural input from Holford & Associates. Construction was undertaken by Balfour Beatty, their first Glasgow motorway project. The road was built with a design speed of 50mph and was provided with three lanes and discontinuous hard shoulders to cater for projected traffic flows of up to 100,000 vehicles per day.
Within months of the start of construction in January 1969, the support columns for the elevated viaducts were already in place. Construction of the Inner Ring Road as well as other works in the Comprehensive Development Area significantly changed the character of the area.
The viaducts are the most interesting aspect of this section of the Inner Ring Road, they were also technically challenging to construct. Each consists of precast post-tensioned beams which weighed up to 80 Tonnes each. These are supported on inverted "T" reinforced concrete pierheads which are founded on piles or concrete pads. To reduce costs, the beams were manufactured at a casting plant set up in the north west corner of the site. Up to 20 beams were being cast at any one time and took around ten days to complete. These were installed in a sequence that ensured traffic flows could be maintained on busy surface streets, such as Garscube Road. Lifting the beams into position took around 45 minutes. All beams were installed by mid-1970.
High mast lighting columns and internally illuminated sign gantries were provided throughout. Retaining wall cladding panels formed from reinforced concrete, and faced with Wally Blue polished aggregate, were developed for this contract in a move away from the sandstone facings utilised at Townhead. This design was used on all subsequent Glasgow motorway contracts built until 1981.
Concrete beams were manufactured at a specially built casting yard to the north of the construction site. The beams, weighing up to 80 tonnes, were lifted into position throughout 1970. The lifting process took around 45 minutes to complete.
Two junctions were constructed as part of Stage 2. The first, a connection to the proposed Maryhill Motorway, remains incomplete and unused. This ghost junction was planned to be a "fully directional T", a design normally found on American urban highway systems. The junction would have had left and right hand exits over only two levels. This differs to the traditional "semi-directional T" junctions normally found in the UK which are normally spread over three levels, and have traffic leaving/entering on the left hand side only. This design was chosen to allow for maximum capacity, ease of navigation and to reduce weaving movements.
The construction of elements of the junction were incorporated into the Stage 2 contract to reduce the impact on traffic when construction of the Maryhill Motorway took place. The intended connections and slip roads can still be seen on the ground. See Maryhill Motorway article for more information. The second junction, at St. George's Cross, included connections to Great Western Road and the surface street network. The loop from Great Western Road onto the westbound M8 has the smallest diameter of any in Scotland with a radius of only 21 metres. Modifications to St. George’s Cross, Maryhill Road and New City Road were also required to accommodate the junction. Right hand exit slip roads were included for the westbound connection to Charing Cross and the eastbound on slip from Great Western Road to reduce the conflicts of weaving traffic intending to use the Maryhill Motorway. Reducing land acquisition and demolition were also a factor in the design. St. George’s Cross underground station was completely rebuilt as part of the construction of the Great Western Road overbridge.
Stage 2 of the contract extended as far as Great Western Road. This marked the boundary with the Charing Cross contract. By mid-1970 almost all beams were in position and the viaducts and other structures were taking shape.
Shortly after this contract was completed, the Scottish Office outlawed slip roads leaving or joining the motorway on the right hand side. Two such examples (the westbound offslip to Charing Cross and eastbound onslip from Great Western Road at J17) were built as part of the Woodside Contract. It remains an uncommon feature on UK motorways, though it is seen throughout the USA.
It was American practice which dictated the use of such a setup here and it offered several benefits. Firstly, it reduced the overall land take required for the construction of the motorway. This was important in the St. George’s Cross and Charing Cross areas where the designers were instructed to minimise the impact of the motorway on its surroundings. John Cullen stated that it allowed them to steer clear of the Stow College building and Charing Cross Mansions.
Secondly, having traffic leave/join the motorway on the right hand side would reduce traffic weaving effects as a result of the junction’s proximity to the proposed Maryhill Motorway. It was anticipated that a fairly large proportion of traffic joining the Inner Ring Road from the north would use the Charing Cross junction. Despite right hand exists and entrances being outlawed, it should be noted that these junctions have a safety record similar to others on the Inner Ring Road. They stand as a reminder that the M8 motorway through Glasgow is not a typical UK motorway!
The Woodside Section was completed and opened to traffic in May 1971. No formal ceremony was held to mark the occasion. Traffic flows were initially light, as seen in this photo from November 1973.
Widening Woodside - The 1990s
Traffic congestion began to appear on the Inner Ring Road from August 1980, a few months after the completion of the M8 across the city. Initially, this was minor in nature and centred on the westbound approach to Charing Cross. Such congestion had been predicted in the city’s highway reports, and the South & East Flanks of the ring road were intended to be in place before traffic flows reached such levels. With the other half cancelled in the 1980s, increasing numbers of vehicles were forced onto the already busy section of motorway. By the early 1990s, congestion had reached such unacceptable levels that Strathclyde Regional Council (replaced Glasgow Corporation in 1975), was forced to take action.
Strathclyde Regional Council engineers devised a scheme whereby an additional running lane would be constructed on each carriageway between Townhead and St. George’s Cross, increasing the available capacity by a third. In some locations, space originally earmarked for the Maryhill Motorway was easily brought into use, as were sections of hard shoulder. Slightly more complex works were required elsewhere. At Townhead, the westbound bridge over Springburn Road was widened on the offside to create a fourth running lane. At Craighall Road the overbridges were modified to create new lanes on the nearside. The most technically challenging work was undertaken at Woodside Viaduct, where the westbound structure widened. Several new supports were constructed, and the east abutment altered to accommodate the new larger bridge deck. The additional lane was slotted into space originally designed accommodate the Maryhill to M8 westbound slip.
Cancellation of the remaining sections of the Inner Ring Road resulted in greater volumes of traffic using the Woodside Section than planned. In the mid-1990s the westbound viaduct was widened to four lanes, utilising space reserved for the Maryhill Motorway.
Additional works, including sign gantry replacement, barrier upgrades, new CCTV masts and retaining wall alterations were also completed. Slip roads were widened and the surface street system at Dobbies Loan was modified. All works were completed in 1996 at a cost of several million pounds.
Ramp Metering, the control of numbers of vehicles entering the carriageway through the use of traffic signals, was introduced in a UK first on the J16 eastbound onslip. It was developed in conjunction with the Transport Research Laborotory. The system went on to be used widely on England’s motorway system.
Despite having an initially positive effect on traffic flows, increasing vehicle numbers meant most of the benefits were lost within a few years. By 2010, over 160,000 vehicles a day were using the North Flank, around 80,000 more than originally planned. Some relief followed in 2011 with the completion of the M74.
Works to widen the Woodside Section were undertaken throughout the 1990s. Between Junctions 15 and 16 an additional lane was added in each direction. Sign gantries, barriers and bridge parapets were also upgraded.
The Woodside Section of the Inner Ring Road has changed little in the last fifty years and it remains one of the busiest sections of the M8 motorway, carrying in excess of 150,000 vehicles every day.
Except for carriageway widening in the 1990s, and minor changes to the local system beneath the elevated viaducts, it appears almost identical to when it was first opened to traffic. This also applies to the areas north of the motorway where only minor redevelopment has occurred.
The cancellation of the Maryhill Motorway in the late 1970s left a ghost slip road on the westbound carriageway. This likelihood of this ever being utilised was removed in 2003 when a canal basin was constructed immediately north of the motorway. The unused stub is a visible reminder that the city had a much larger motorway plan, only 50% of which was completed.
The Woodside Section remains a crucial part of the M8 motorway, carrying over 150,000 vehicles per day. The elevated viaducts have become a well known part of Glasgow's motorway system.
From the Archive
Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Balfour Beatty commissioned a film to chart the construction of the Woodside Section of the Inner Ring Road. The film, produced by Templar Film Studios, was released in mid-1971.
A copy of the film was donated to the Glasgow Motorway Archive in 2019 and we are delighted to present it here. With thanks to AECOM, successor company of SWK.
This article was first published in March 2021. Updated July 2023.
Other Inner Ring Road Articles
> The Unbuilt Section: The South & East Flanks
> The A82