Surprise! A new motorway

Published: 11 May 2021

Appearing unexpectedly on signs in Lincolnshire last week, a brand new motorway has suddenly come into existence. And it's a weird one.

New motorways don't come along very often. We don't really build entirely new roads any more: generally, we widen the roads we have, and we build bypasses or relief roads to add capacity along the line of existing routes. But a whole new motorway? No, that doesn't come along very often.

The last new signposted motorway number to be allocated was the A8(M), created four years ago on the outskirts of Glasgow. It vanished from signs a few months later when there was a change of heart at Transport Scotland. Before that, you have to go back 18 years to the creation of the M6 Toll. Two new motorway numbers in 20 years tells you just how rarely a new one comes along.

One road becomes two

Well, here's one now. Scunthorpe isn't known for much, but road enthusiasts have plenty to entertain them in the shape of the M181, one of the UK's shortest motorways. Created in 1978, the value of assigning it a number of its own was always fairly marginal - it's really just an extended link to connect local roads to junction 3 of the M180. But evidently, someone back in 1978 considered it long enough to be a motorway in its own right. In that sense it was already a bit of a curiosity.

The M181, when it was still M181, showing why it was interesting mainly for its road number. Click to enlarge

The M181, when it was still M181, showing why it was interesting mainly for its road number. Click to enlarge

Now, as part of wider development plans called Lincolnshire Lakes, North Lincolnshire Council have taken responsibility for the M181 from Highways England, and their long term plan (in the works for several years) has been to break it up by installing two roundabouts and some traffic lights along its length, and to demote it to form part of the A1077. The southernmost section, connecting to the M180, will have to keep its motorway status, but will lose its unique identity and will become just a spur of the M180.

The northern roundabout has now been built, at Brumby Common, though for the moment it doesn't connect to anything else. For reasons known only to themselves, North Lincolnshire Council's highways department have decided that the orphaned section of M181 north of the roundabout will stay a motorway, but will now have its own number. New signs have gone up indicating that it is now, officially, the A1077(M).

It is a motorway that just serves to continue directly on from another motorway. Drive it southbound and the only option is to join what remains of the M181. Drive the M181 northbound and you find the only road onward is the A1077(M). It's not really clear why this bit of road is still a motorway, now that it's just a bit of dual carriageway between two roundabouts, or why it needs its own number.

Still: being road enthusiasts, we love an oddity, and they don't come odder than this. Let's take a tour. Bryn from Show Me A Sign Blog has visited and shared these photos with us.

If you'd like to see the whole thing in motion, JenOnTheMove has acted with typical speed to get a video online - you can watch it here.

Why has this happened?

Nobody is sure. Possibly it's just the result of a situation that's very unusual, and somebody at either North Lincolnshire Council or Highways England is doing something that is, at best, an very zealous application of the rules.

Here's one possible line of reasoning for this to happen:

  • A new roundabout has been built on the line of the M181.
  • Motorways can't be broken up by roundabouts, so the road can't now be M181 on both sides of the new roundabout. (Some motorways are broken by roundabouts, of course - see the M271 and A627(M).)
  • Most of the M181 lies south of the roundabout, and connects to the M180, so that bit should remain M181 for now.
  • The roundabout doesn't yet connect to any other roads, so there's nowhere for non-motorway traffic to go. Therefore the road north of the roundabout needs to stay a motorway until those new roads are built.
  • The road to the north of the roundabout is planned to become part of the A1077, but can't take that number if it's still a motorway.
  • Therefore it needs to be A1077(M), indicating a section of A1077 under motorway regulations.

There's a definite logic to that, and we're fairly sure something like that train of thought must have led to this point. But it didn't actually have to be this way.

If the new roundabout isn't going to connect to anything for a while, the road could just all stay as M181 until the motorway restrictions are lifted. A motorway with a roundabout in the middle would be weird, but it'd be less weird and confusing than the current situation, which is a motorway with a roundabout in the middle that now has two different road numbers.

Anyway, we're not complaining. Weird oddities like this are what we're here for.

Is it here to stay?

Probably not. The masterplan for Lincolnshire Lakes is pretty clear that the M181 will be broken up by another roundabout soon, which means that the motorway will be cut back much further. The present A1077(M) will also have a signalised pedestrian crossing installed halfway along.

There are also indications on the road that this set-up is only a passing fad.

Northbound, on the M181, new "clearway" signs have gone up indicating that the no stopping restrictions extend for a mile. (The plate reads "1 mile" when it should say "for 1 mile", but we get the idea.) That mile includes the whole length of the A1077(M). You wouldn't need to set up a clearway on a motorway - you can't stop on motorways anyway - so the installation of clearway signs suggest that the road ahead will eventually just be an all-purpose road with a ban on stopping.

You wouldn't make it a clearway if it was going to stay a motorway. Click to enlarge

You wouldn't make it a clearway if it was going to stay a motorway. Click to enlarge

In both directions, signs showing the new roundabout are wide enough only to show the straight-ahead destinations, which is the only route available to traffic right now. When roads are built to the left and right, new signs on new poles will be needed to signpost places away to the sides. That strongly suggests that the A1077(M) signs are all temporary and something else will replace them before the project is done.

The best guess, then, is that this is a weird little temporary motorway, given its own route number even though it doesn't really need one, as an intermediate stage in a bigger project.

This part of the world has a bit of a thing for those.

Just another weird temporary motorway

Travel ten miles due west of the A1077(M) - two junctions along the M180, in fact - and you'll arrive at the site of the short-lived A18(M), a motorway less than a mile in length that existed for just a couple of years in the 1970s as an interim stage in the construction of the M18 and M180 near Thorne.

Most of the A18(M) is now the M180 approaching its terminus on the M18. Part of it is the eastbound off-slip to junction 1. And the remainder is one of the UK's only truly abandoned motorways. Our sister site Pathetic Motorways have a brilliant article on it.

The A1077(M) isn't going to be abandoned, of course, so in that sense its mystique will never quite match the oddball A18(M). But it is a very strange thing to have appeared out of nowhere, and it's undoubtedly going to end up a peculiarly memorable footnote in the history of the motorway network, providing endless conversation for road enthusiasts everywhere.

So, on behalf of all of us - thank you, North Lincolnshire Council! Your strange road numbering decision will fascinate us for years to come.

Comments

Chris Bertram 11 May 2021

For another motorway with a roundabout in the middle, see Northern Ireland and its M12. That one even has a completely pointless footway around the circle!

It also has some wonderfully redundant signs saying "GIVE WAY to traffic from RIGHT".
Better still, if you're approaching from the Craigavon side, the only traffic from the RIGHT would be traffic using the roundabout to switch carriageways on the M1, or trying to get back on on the M1, after having exited by mistake.

Paul Robson 12 May 2021

The M271 has a roundabout in it , though this is the junction with the M27 so I guess that's allowed.

Surely the worst offender is Simister Island roundabout on the M60. With traffic lights.

colly 12 May 2021

If the M181 has to be a motorway, why doesn't the Ettlingen Way approaching M5 J20?

Because M5 J20 has a roundabout, where anyone not allowed on a motorway has an opportunity to turn round and go back. Where the M181 meets the M180, there’s no opportunity to go back, so once you join the M181 you’re committed to joining the M180 and travelling on a motorway for many miles. 

Fundamentally, motorway regulations should begin after the last possible place non-motorway traffic can turn back. At M5 J20 that’s where the sliproad to the M5 begins. On the M181 it’s further back. 

The analogous junction to the M181 on the M5 would of course be J22, where the spur does have motorway restrictions (although it's only a quarter of a mile long, measuring generously).

Michael Gardiner 13 May 2021

It's heartening that cash-strapped councils can still find the money for this sort of nonsense, just to entertain those of us who find roads more interesting than many people would consider reasonable!

John Randall 13 May 2021

The A18(M) might be a good example of this region's love for short-term number messing, but at least that made a bit of sense on paper. Whereas much more recently you had last year's mess at the start of the M180, which is a better example of road signs being treated like a deck of cards assigned randomly across the board.

Anonymous 14 May 2021

Does the newly built roundabout allow you to make a u-turn at the moment? If so, the bit of motorway that’s designated A1077(M) could just be plain A1077 as non-motorway traffic would be able turn around there.

Yes, it does, so non-motorway traffic could u-turn there. 

petrolmaps 15 May 2021

Maybe they wanted to stop the unique status of the A6144 (M) as being Britain's only other motorway that require 8 characters, including the space...

There was also an A6127(M) in Newcastle for a while. It’s now A167(M).

Pathetic motorways a "sister site"? 🤔

Love this site - always so passionate and interesting. Great to see all the updates too! Talking about motorways, I always wondered if you guys on roads.org had ever got any photos/info on when past motorway projects or roads just 'end' after the final junction. I seem to think I have memories from back in the late 80s/90s of motorway extensions where it felt like coming onto the start of a runway, rather than a continuous road - is there ever an example of a true 'beginning' or 'end' of the route, as opposed to just merging to another?

Bigmac 23 May 2021

Another motorway! Might i take the time to suggest a motorway/contraflow simulator where you get to build your own motorway, and/or have roadworks on it?

That'd be brilliant. Someone somewhere should do something like that.

The N. Lincs Council suffers form the same problem as the East Riding of Yorkshire council when it comes to road/highways development and operation.
The really have not got a clue what they are doing. Sad but very evident in their operations.

I thought the M181 was was looked after by Highways England. Has it been detrunked?

The latest information from HE is that the M181 is still trunk but the section now called A1077(M) has been detrunked and is now the responsibility of North Lincs Council. but more will be detrunked in future to just leave a short stub off M180 J3. 

Simon 1 June 2021

So what is the justification for what used to be the eastern end of the A601(M) being the B6601? (And that is indeed the B6601, Lancashire County Council have confirmed it.)

Different people in different authorities making different decisions. Never assume there’s a single standard way of doing things where the UK road network is concerned, because there almost never is!

Wooshy 4 June 2021

Why wasnt this just built as a GSJ?

Gryph 10 June 2021

Having visited the A1077(M) myself (I too recorded video but it pretty much failed) it almost looks as if someone at North Lincs is a roadgeek and had the opportunity to do this as a gift to their fellow roadgeeks. I think I'd probably do the same thing given the opportunity. The signing itself would be better, mind.

David 12 June 2021

The M23 has a roundabout joining the spur M23 to Gatwick Airport.
I have looked, but can't find instructions on how to use a roundabout on a motorway in the Highway Code

That's slightly different - it's not a roundabout interrupting the mainline of a motorway. There are lots of roundabouts under motorway regulations scattered across the country, much like the one at Gatwick.

There are no special instructions for using a roundabout on a motorway. You use it the same as any other roundabout.

BlakeIsHere 16 June 2021

It's obviously tempoary, it will be gone in likely in 3 months.

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