Celebrating 50 years of motorways16 Oct 2008

5th December 2008 is the 50th Anniversary of the opening of Britain’s first motorway, the Preston By-Pass, now part of the M6 in Lancashire. Championed by the then Transport Minister, Harold Watkinson, and opened by the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, this new-style road marked the start of a new era of safer, more reliable road travel for people and goods – an event as significant in our economic history as the invention of canals, steam power, railways and the internal combustion engine itself.


The 50th anniversary of the coming of the motorway era will be celebrated with a series of events and activities, co-ordinated by a steering group of logistics and professional bodies. Anniversary events will mark the economic and personal benefits that the UK has reaped from its motorway system, and provide an opportunity to consider the challenges of improving and increasing the safe capacity of the network while meeting today’s standards of environmental protection.


Details of anniversary events and plans will be published on the 50th Anniversary Website – www.50yearsofmotorways.org. This site will advertise events as they are finalised, and provide a mine of information on the history of the system and prospects for its development.


The opening of the Preston By-Pass on 5th December 1958 was followed by a large section of the southern M1 in November 1959 giving reality to our new motorway era. Guided by early experience in Europe and America, British engineers in the 1950s refined and improved design standards to better fit British needs and perfect what are now Britain’s safest roads, carrying 20% of all traffic including 42% of heavy goods traffic.


John Wootton, Chairman of the Motorway Archive Trust, and of the 50th Anniversary Group, said “the motorways are a great engineering achievement, have contributed massively to the economic growth of the country, proven to be safer than other roads and will remain Britain’s most important transport infrastructure into the distant future. The 50th Anniversary provides an opportunity to celebrate these achievements and consider our future needs.”



The organisations currently co-ordinating their events are:-


Institution of Highways and Transportation; Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport; Institution of Civil engineers; Institution of Engineering and Technology; Institute of Highway Incorporated Engineers; Society of Operations Engineers; Automobile Association; Freight Transport Association; RAC Foundation; Road Users Alliance; Motorway Archive Trust