The Glasgow Inner Ring Road (IRR) was planned as an urban motorway around the city centre. Only the North and West flanks were constructed, and today these carry the M8 motorway through the city. The ring road corridor was proposed by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick in the "Interim Report on the Glasgow Inner Ring Road" published in 1962. However, its origins lie in the mid-1940s.
This page considers the North Flank of the route, which can be found between Townhead Interchange (J15) and St. Georges Cross (J17). It was constructed in two stages between 1965 and 1971.
LOCATION: Glasgow, M8 Junctions 15-17
TOWNHEAD INTERCHANGE & WOODSIDE STAGE 1:
Work Started: 1st November 1965
Completed: 5th April 1968 (some ramps/slips open from late 1967)
Designer: Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick (Holfords as Consulting Architects)
Contractor: Marples Ridgeway Ltd
Cost: £3.1 million (75% grant provided by Scottish Office) (£51 million in 2017)
WOODSIDE STAGE 2:
Work Started: January 1969
Completed: 9th May 1971
Designer: Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick (Holfords as Consulting Architects)
Contractor: Balfour Beatty
Cost: £4 million (75% grant provided by Scottish Office) (£54 million in 2017)
OVERALL LENGTH: 1.5 miles
Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick was responsible for the design and procurement of this contract with preparatory works carried out throughout 1965. It begins at Townhead Interchange (the present day Junction 15) in the north east corner of the city centre. The interchange is large and complex with multiple overbridges, underpasses, retaining walls and sign gantries. Well known features include the tight looped slip that forms the westbound on ramp from the A803 Springburn Expressway and the red sandstone clad retaining walls. The construction contract, valued at £3.1 million, was let to Marples Ridgeway Ltd during November 1965. Construction commenced a few weeks later on 3rd December. A small ground breaking ceremony was held which was attended by Willie Ross, the Secretary of State for Scotland. Site clearance and demolition had been undertaken in advance, with considerable changes to the character of Castle Street, Parliamentary Road, Alexandra Parade and Royston Road. Sections of the Monkland Canal had been infilled during 1963 to facilitate construction of the new motorway.
Like many junctions on the urban sections of the M8, Townhead combines elements of several high capacity junction types, and has an infamous right hand entry/exit slip road to/from Stirling Road. The junction is best described as a multi-level fork/stack hybrid that incorporates a channelised diamond at its northern end. Its bespoke design was chosen to allow free flow movements from the IRR North Flank and Monkland Motorway to the East Flank and Springburn Expressway. The East Flank of the IRR (Townhead to Gorbals) was never built. The road design speed was 50mph for the M8 main carriageway & 40mph for the associated slip roads. Maximum gradients were 5% on the main ramps & 6% on slips. The contract included ten bridges, six underpasses & thirteen retaining walls.
CONTRACT 1 ctd: WOODSIDE EXTENSION
West of Townhead the North Flank proceeds around the south of Port Dundas. Here the motorway has four lanes (originally 3) in each direction and a 50mph speed limit. Traffic bound for Townhead joins and leaves the motorway on the right hand side in what was intended as a connection to the ring road's East Flank. Construction on this part of the motorway was originally planned as a separate contract. Lower than expected prices for Townhead allowed it to be brought forward, extending the contract to Craighall Road with construction of other future parts also completed (see diagrams below illustrating contract changes). Construction on this section began in April 1967 and was completed at the same time as Townhead Interchange. The bridge over Craighall Road was built but not connected to the motorway system until the completion of the Woodside 2 contract in 1971.
A junction is provided with Craighall Road (and Canal Street in the westbound direction). Also known as Port Dundas (or Junction 16), it is a half diamond design with east facing slips roads only. 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.
The Woodside Stage 2 contract completed the North Flank of the Inner Ring Road when it opened in May 1971. It was the third contract completed after Townhead/Woodside Stage 1 and the Kingston Bridge, and cost almost £4 million to construct (£54 million in 2017 prices). The motorway is almost entirely elevated, carried on two multi span viaducts which are 365m and 460m long. The route chosen lies to the north of the Cowcaddens Comprehensive Development Area.
Work on the contract began 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 to create distributor roads and improved access to Great Western Road. The motorway was constructed on viaducts to ensure free passage of vehicles and pedestrians below and to ensure environmental continuity at ground level. As with Stage 1, the scheme was designed by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick, with architectural input from Holfords. Construction was undertaken by Balfour Beatty. 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.
The viaducts are by far 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 precast on site with 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. As with Stage 1, high mast lighting columns and internally illuminated sign gantries were provided throughout.
Two junctions were constructed as part of Stage 2. The first, a connection to the proposed Maryhill Motorway, has never been completed and remains unused. This ghost junction was planned to be a "fully directional T". If completed, it would have been unique in the United Kingdom as this is 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 found elsewhere in Scotland and 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. This junction was incorporated into the Stage 2 contract to reduce the impact on ring road traffic when construction of the Maryhill Motorway took place. The intended connections and slip roads can still be seen on the ground. See our page on the Maryhill Motorway for more information on this. 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 other in Scotland with a radius of only 21 metres. 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.
A number of modifications to this section of the ring road were made during the early 1990s, and it was amongst the first sections of the motorway system to experience congestion.
Index page for the IRR, outlining development of the route from the 1940s until 1980.
Index page for the M8 with links to contract pages, construction information and a route overview.
The West Flank of the IRR includes the Kingston Bridge, its approaches and the controversial Charing Cross section.
The South & East Flanks of the IRR proved controversial from the outset and were ultimately cancelled.
The North Flank is a section of the M8 motorway around the north of Glasgow city centre. It is located between Townhead and Great Western Road (Junctions 15 and 17). It was intended as the northern quarter of the Inner Ring Road (IRR) and constructed in two phases. Phase 1 completed the first stage of the Townhead Interchange, as well as make alterations to Alexandra Parade and other adjacent surface streets. It also completed the first stage of the Woodside section in the west of the contract area.
A second phase completed the elevated section through Cowcaddens to Great Western Road and St. George’s Cross. When construction began in 1965, it marked the start of work on the motorways within the Glasgow City boundary. The corridor selected for the north flank differs to that outlined in the Bruce Report of 1945. It was pulled northwards by the Scot Wilson Kirkpatrick design team to utilise open space to the north west of Townhead and reduce the overall impact on Cowcaddens.
Today the junction provides an almost totally free flow connection to the A803 Springburn Expressway and the A8 High Street. Local roads such as Alexandra Parade and Baird Street are also accessible. Indeed the Baird Street extension, completed as part of this contract, has become an important route to the city centre from areas such as Royston and Bishopbriggs. The Baird Street bridge was in use from mid-1967 (making it the oldest motorway bridge within the city), as was the altered Alexandra Parade. It was designed as a replacement for Parliamentary Road which was scheduled for removal as part of the Townhead Comprehensive Development Area (CDA) scheme. The main M8 structures (those crossing Castle Street and Springburn Expressway) were each constructed as three lanes wide with no hard shoulder. It was intended that lane 1 (left most lane) would be converted to shoulder following the completion of the IRR East and South Flanks – intended to become the primary route for westbound traffic.
The interchange complex was not completed as part of this initial contract. Stage 1 saw only the construction of the M8 overbridges, connections to Castle Street and Alexandra Parade and the completion of advance works for the remaining structures. A variation to the original contract was issued on 3rd April 1967 to include construction of Stage 1 of the Woodside section. A further two stages (spread over several construction contracts) expanded the interchange throughout the 1970s and 80s into what it is today. Details of these schemes and Woodside Stage 1 can be found below.
Townhead's compact, two level design allows it to remain visually unobtrusive despite its importance and complexity. Many of the slip roads feature two lanes with wide hard shoulders - a reminder that they were intended to be links to another motorway and not surface streets. The slip road from the A803 southbound to M8 westbound is particularly striking. Known as "Loop-U" it features the second tightest radius loop of any slip road on the Glasgow network. Pedestrian overbridges and walkways also criss-cross the junction allowing the area to be easily traversed on foot and recognising that pedestrian movements needed to be considered.
Townhead had been home to the oldest chemical works in the world. Special measures were required to protect structural concrete from the corrosive materials abundant in the surrounding soil as a result. The geometry of the entire interchange was determined in advance of construction - a process made difficult by the area being so built up. Barnett's Tables (an American design practice) were utilised to calculate curves and gradients. Scott Wilson Kirkpatricks' engineers had American training and no UK standards existed at this time.
Townhead in its present form stands as a reminder that the junction was intended to act as a major hub between two flanks of the Inner Ring Road, the Monkland Motorway and the Springburn Expressway. Various unconnected stubs on slip roads, overly wide hard shoulders and the vacant piece of tarmac at the southern end of the interchange are just some of the indications.
The motorway opened to traffic on April 5th 1968, the first motorway contract completed within the Glasgow city boundary. In all, around 1.25 miles of dual carriageway & all-purpose roads were constructed as part of the Stage 1 contract. Baird Street bridge and the Alexandra Parade diversion had opened to traffic during 1967. The opening ceremony was again conducted by Willie Ross. The motorway had temporary termini with Craighall Road in the west until May 1971, and Alexandra Parade in the east until May 1975. Photos of these areas can be seen below.
Townhead Interchange, in its present form, was completed in a series of additional construction contracts. An advance contract to Stage 2 was completed in the mid-1970s and involved the construction of the eastbound M8 slip road to the northbound Springburn Expressway (A803) and the realignment of Castle Street. The main contractor was Costain.
The main Stage 2 contract saw construction of the “Loop U” slip road to the M8 westbound, advanced earthworks for the Stage 3 structures and sections of new drainage and retaining walls. Works were completed in the early-1980s under contracts let to Lilley Construction and Whatlings.
Stage 3, completed in the mid-1980s, saw construction of the east facing slips roads to/from Stirling Road, the west facing slip roads to/from Castle Street and both carriageways of the Springburn Expressway/A803. As part of both Stages 2 & 3, overhead sign gantries and high mast lights were constructed and various alterations made to the surrounding local road network. Provision for connection to the East Flank of the IRR (already considerably downgraded in scale by this stage) was also included and remains visible on the ground today.
In 2019, we were contacted by Ian MacFarlane, an engineer who worked for Lilley Construction on the Stage 2 contract. Lilley were a Glasgow based contractor best known for their work on the reopening of the Argyle Line and the Springburn Expressway contracts. Ian has prepared a small paper on the contract, detailing the works undertaken and revealing some interesting stories from the job. We have made the paper, which is a fascinating insight, available to download – click the link opposite.