How to build a motorway

Published: 27 April 2019

We've just published an archive of nearly 500 aerial photographs of the M65 under construction, taken between 1994 and 1997. What for?

Any road construction project is a big job. Grading and laying a road surface is no trivial task, especially on the scale required for a new motorway. But before that can happen all sorts of other jobs have to be done too - earthworks, drainage, diversions to other roads and tracks, construction of bridges, viaducts and culverts, and much more. That work can take years, but it's not obvious to the passer-by while the work is happening, and it's perhaps even less obvious to the motorist who only experiences the finished road in a flash at 70mph.

Behind the cones: construction work at Tramway Lane to build a new bridge. Click to enlarge

Behind the cones: construction work at Tramway Lane to build a new bridge. Click to enlarge

The M65 between junctions 1A and 3, to the south and east of Preston, is the seven-mile length documented in the 466 pictures Roads.org.uk has just put online. It's actually a fairly ordinary length of road through undemanding terrain, built in the mid-1990s and opened in December 1997. But it’s precisely because it’s an example of an ordinary motorway that it’s worth studying. The story of building the M65 is the story of every motorway construction project. And if you've ever wondered even for a moment how it's done, or what goes on, here are the answers, delivered in full colour and in quantities you probably never expected.

It includes examples of overbridges, underbridges, long viaduct structures, vast embankments, rock cutting, buried culverts, demolition, temporary diversions, multi-level interchanges and even "direct action" environmental protests. The pictures span three years, in which time you can see every part of a major motorway construction project from every angle.

It's an incredible resource, the only one of its type online, and we hope you'll find it every bit as fascinating and valuable as we do.

M65 J3, Riley Green Interchange, seen in December 1997. There's 465 more where this came from. Click to enlarge

M65 J3, Riley Green Interchange, seen in December 1997. There's 465 more where this came from. Click to enlarge

Who's it for?

It may not be quite like any of the other features and articles on Roads.org.uk, but we hope it's still of interest to enthusiasts and professionals alike. There is a lot to take in, so we've tried to make it as easy as possible to get the most out of the pictures.

  • If you're not familiar with this length of the M65, there's a map view on the main page that can help you understand the geography of the project and the structures that had to be built.
  • We've assembled a page of highlights that show some of the key processes and can help you spot details in the rest of the photos, once you know what you're looking for. There's also a page describing the history of the M65 leading up to this project and another page about how these photos came to be taken and put online.
  • If you want to pick out a particular road, or structure, or viewpoint, or pictures from a certain date, or a combination of any of those, there are filtering tools to help you find what you need. Pictures are all categorised and captioned to explain what you can see.
  • And finally, if you want to see things develop over the life of the contract, the map view has clickable arrows that will take you straight to the 27 most frequently-photographed viewpoints, from which you can get the best idea of the project's progress.

You can find everything under "Features" in the main site navigation.

If you're a student of civil engineering we hope you'll find these pictures instructive and useful. If you're local to Preston or Blackburn, we hope you'll enjoy seeing how the landscape was changed to provide an important road link in your area. And if you're like us, and you just find roads fascinating, we hope you'll be as engrossed as we are by the endless possibilities to learn how something we all take for granted is brought into existence by countless skilled and tireless workers.

Comments

Niall 12 May 2019

Really interesting set of photos, I can remember as a child this motorway being built and being fascinated with it when it opened and still a regular user of it today. Is there any photos of the motorway under construction from junction 3 to 6?

I'm afraid not - what you see here is everything I have. J3-6 was built by a different company under a different contract, and I've no idea whether they even took pictures to record their part of the project.

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