The Larkhall Hamilton Uddingston 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.
Today the route carries over 90,000 vehicles per day and remains a crucial link in the central Scotland motorway system. Stage 1 celebrates its 50th anniversary in December 2016. This page provides information on the planning and construction of the route and considers how it has performed in the 50 years since its completion.
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.
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.
The Hamilton Bypass was opened to traffic in three stages and was 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 early 1965.
Location: South Lanarkshire - Junctions 4 (Maryville) to 9 (Draffan)
Stage 1: (J6-9) 2nd December 1966 (14:00 hrs)
Stage 2: (J5-6) 3rd May 1968 (J4-J5) 2nd August 1968
Designer: Babtie, Shaw & Morton
Stage 1: Christiani-Shand Stage 2: Tarmac Civil Engineering Ltd.
Length: 13.5 miles
Total Scheme Costs: Stage 1: £8.5 Million (£150.5 million in 2017)
Stage 2: £7.5 Million (£125 million in 2017)
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.
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 (see opposite). 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.
DESIGN OF INTERCHANGES
In a technical paper “Special Features of Hamilton Bypass Motorway (M74)” published by the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1968 the Babtie designers (Paton, Fraser and Davidson) outlined the reasons for the interchange designs chosen. Designs were based upon traffic flows, construction costs, connections to adjacent roads and topography. They explained as follows (modern junction numbers provided in brackets):
"This interchange can be classified as a semi-fly-under roundabout, semi-partial clover leaf and was constructed three years in advance of the motorway as part of a trunk road improvement immediately to the south. The roundabout facilitated the diversion of A74 when the motorway was connected up with the interchange in 1966 and provided facilities for non-motorway traffic to continue on the A74 which has now been ‘de-trunked’ and is an all-purpose road." (Note: This junction was removed when the motorway was extended southwards to Poneil in October 1986. A diagram of the original layout is shown below.).
A71 Interchange (J8)
"The A71 interchange is of the modified trumpet variety located on, and making use of, the existing route A71. The adjacent roundabout at Canderside Toll has also been utilised and in consequence connecting facilities are available for traffic approaching the motorway from Lanark and the East. The loop for southbound traffic leaving the motorway has been fitted with under-road heating over the deceleration lane and one-third of the loop length." (Note: the roundabout was built in 1959/60 by the SDD to alleviate traffic at the A71/A74 junction.)
A72 Interchange (J7)
"This interchange is basically a half-diamond adjusted to suit site topography and caters for A72 to north traffic only. Much of this traffic emanates from Larkhall, and the feeder route from this town has been completely re-aligned to join the interchange suitably. At A72, the feeder route has been split to give a right/left stagger for northbound motorway traffic. Islands have also been provided on A72 to avoid conflict between right-turning traffic joining from the east and A72/Larkhall traffic. As with the previous two interchanges only one bridge is required."
A723 Interchange (J6)
"This is the largest interchange on the motorway and is of the fully directional type. South of A723 the motorway carries dual two-lanes, but to the north a third lane has been added to cater for the heavy joining traffic from Hamilton and Motherwell. Since the traffic on A723 compares with that of the motorway, this interchange has been designed as a motorway-to-motorway junction with omni-directional connexions. The final layout was developed as follows:
(a) Two-level flyover roundabout. This design involved a roundabout of excessive dimensions and weaving lengths which could not be accommodated in the restricted area available.
(b) Three-level sandwich roundabout. In this design, only the turning traffic would use the roundabout whose dimensions are thereby reduced to more manageable proportions. Even so, the roundabout would have been a very large one. In addition, since the motorway is carried on long embankments on both sides of the A723 crossing, there would have been a considerable expenditure on extra fill to raise these embankments to a higher level. The ‘visual barrier’ effect across route A723 was also deemed unacceptable.
(c) Standard clover leaf. At one stage, the standard clover leaf solution seemed a possibility, but again site restrictions made it difficult to accommodate a full layout and in any case the combined flows on any two adjacent petals generally exceeded the normally accepted maximum of 1000 pcu/h.
(d) Modified clover leaf. The previous layout was further developed to suit the site conditions and traffic requirements. The loops south of A723 were dispersed to eliminate the common acceleration/deceleration lane on the south side of A723 where weaving would have been particularly heavy. Weaving lanes were also removed from both sides of the motorway proper and these adjustments yielded a satisfactory design with a margin of reserve capacity. Other advantages included easier signing, reduction of potential points of conflict and an avoidance of situations involving multiple driver decisions.
(e) Directional interchange. The progress of the investigations advanced logically to the directional form of interchange. Initial schemes consisted of mixtures of loops and direct connexions but the estimated running and accident costs moved so decisively in favour of direct connexions that a full directional layout was developed. It was finally decided to adopt this form of layout which, for design flows, yields a 70% annual return in improved running costs on the 22% increase in capital cost over the modified clover leaf solution."
The adopted layout occupies an area of 90 acres, contains three miles of connecting roads and necessitated a diversion of the River Avon. (Note: A diagram of the layout of this junction is shown below.)
DESIGN OF INTERCHANGES continued
A725 Interchange (J5)
"This interchange is of the fly-under roundabout variety and is the only near-standard layout in the whole motorway. The roundabout is slightly asymmetrical to suit the skew angle of the A725 with the M74 and to provide the sector weaving lengths required." (Note: Raith Interchange has undergone a number of changes since its construction. The illustrations and text below outline these in detail).
Maryville Junction (J4)
"This junction connects the projected M73 with M74. Originally it was thought that a flyover roundabout would suffice but again the heavy turning movements and the general site topography operated against a solution of this type. The area of the junction is restricted to the north by steeply rising ground, to the east by the private housing developments of Uddingston, to the west by the North Calder Water and Daldowie Crematorium, and to the south by the River Clyde. Through the centre of the area ran the A74 trunk route and in order to make space for the junction it was necessary to divert A74 away from the river to the toe of the rising ground. The choice of layout was further affected by the need to terminate M74 temporarily in this vicinity, and other secondary roads in the area had also to be maintained to trumpet layouts. but lack of space prevented the accommodation of the Design investigations proceeded from the flyover roundabout solution to trumpet layouts, but lack of space prevented the accommodation of the requisite loops and it became apparent that a T-shaped directional layout could be needed. Initially it was hoped that the connecting roads over M74 could be accommodated on separated bridges but in order to achieve reasonable curves, gradients and the full lengths of acceleration/deceleration lane it became necessary to unite these crossings into a single three-level structure. A temporary bridge and loop has also been provided for Glasgow bound traffic (visible in photo opposite), but once the motorway is extended northwards to Glasgow it will be possible to remove this connexion." (Note: this eventually happened in 1992/93 when the motorway was extended to Fullarton Road. Additional slips were added at this time – see below.).
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 constructed 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 1965 with construction commencing shortly afterwards.
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 around three. 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 suppoly 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.
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. As mentioned above a concrete system was trialled between Hamilton and Larkhall to test its durability under Scottish conditions. It was successful and remained in place until 2001. Under road heating was provided on some steeper parts of the route although it was never utilised to any great extent. Stage 1 was completed and opened to traffic at 14:00 on December 2nd 1966, following an opening ceremony by Willie Ross MP at 11:00. Stage 2 (from Hamilton to Raith) was completed in May 1968 with Raith to Maryville following in August 1968.
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 accomodate 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 steadilly 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.
In response Transport Scotland promoted the Raith Interchange and M8, M73, M74 Network Improvements Schemes (ultimately combined with the M8 Baillieston to Newwhouse scheme - page HERE). As part of these projects, which are currently under construction and scheduled for completion in 2017, Raith Interchange is being significantly upgraded and provided with an underpass, and the M74 is being provided with an additional lane on sections between J4 and 6. Overhead sign gantries and other enhancements, including changes to Daldowie junction, are also being provided as part of the works. On completion journey times between Hamilton and Glasgow and through Raith Interchange will be reduced by several minutes. Details of these works can be found on our dedicated page HERE. Some photos can be seen below.
We are delighted to present a selection of rare photos showcasing the construction of Stage 2 of the project around the Uddingston and Powburn Toll areas. Donated to us by Alistair Hastings, the photos were taken by his Grandfather Joe Hastings. In one photo a young Alistair can been seen standing on a spot near the construction site. These photos first appeared on the Blantyre Project - a Facebook page which chronicles the history of the Blantyre and wider Lanarkshire area. It can be found HERE. We are sure you'll agree that these photos are quite special.