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North Flank: Townhead & Woodside

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, as constructed, was designed by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and outlined 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 completed between 1968 and 1971.

Last Updated: 2nd April 2018

Key Facts & Figures

LOCATION:  Glasgow, M8 Junctions 15-17



Work Started:  1st November 1965

Completed:  8th April 1968 (some ramps/slips open from late 1967)

Designer:  Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick (Holfords as Consulting Architects)

Contractor:  Marples Ridgeway  

Cost:  £3.1 million (75% grant provided by Scottish Office) (£51 million in 2017)                            



Work Started:  January 1969

Completed:  7th 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)                                



Introduction & Townhead Interchange

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 and constructed in two phases. Phase 1 was planned to complete the first stage of the Townhead Interchange, as well as make alterations to Alexandra Parade and other adjacent surface streets. A second phase completed the elevated section to Great Western Road. When construction began in 1965, it marked the start of work on the motorways within the Glasgow City boundary.



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 loop that forms the westbound onslip from the A803 Springburn Expressway, and the red sandstone clad walls, which contrary to popular belief, are not constructed from demolished tenement buildings.


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 Inner Ring Road North Flank and Monkland Motorway to the East Flank and Springburn Expressway. The East Flank (Townhead to Gorbals) was never built.


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. The M8 ramps were constructed as three lanes wide with no hardshoulders. It was intended that lane 1 (left most lane) would be converted to shoulder following the completion of the ring road East and South Flanks - these would become the primary route for westbound traffic.


The interchange was not completed as part of this initial contract. Stage 1 saw construction of the M8 overbridges, connections to Castle Street and Alexandra Parade and carried out advanced works for the remaining structures. The Stage 1 contractor was Marples Ridgeway Ltd and the route opened to traffic on April 5th 1968. The opening was attended by Willie Ross, then Scottish Secretary. The remaining slips and structures were completed by the early 1980s by Strathclyde Regional Council. The last of these, Townhead Stage 3, saw the addition of a number of sign gantries. Many of the actual signs weren't added and a number of unused plinths remain visible today. 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 in 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 perpetual reminder that this 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 stubs on the slip roads, overly wide hard shoulders and the vacant piece of tarmac at the southern end of the interchange are just some of the giveaways.

Townhead: Facts & Figures

Townhead Stage 1 was the first M8 Inner Ring Road contract to open to traffic when it was completed on the 5th of April 1968. Here are a few facts about the scheme:


1. Construction officially began on the 3rd of December 1965 following a ceremony attended by the Secretary of State for Scotland, Willie Ross. The contract began on the 1st of November.


2. The area around the Royal Infirmary was a well known traffic bottleneck before the road was completed.


3. Around 1.25 miles of dual carriageway & all-purpose roads were constructed as part of the Stage 1 contract.


4. On 3rd April 1967 the contract was extended to include the first stage of Woodside (described below).


5. Final costs were in the region of £3.1million (£51 million in 2017 prices).


6. The contract included ten bridges, six underpasses & thirteen retaining walls.


7. The road design speed was 50mph for the M8 Ring Road ramps & 40mph for the associated slip roads. Maximum gradients were 5% on main ramps & 6% on slips.

Townhead Stage 1 Plan

Townhead Image Gallery

Townhead Today

Townhead continues to be an important M8 junction. It was completed in the mid-1980s and there have been few changes since. The gallery below showcases some of its main features.

Original Layout

Woodside Contract 1


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.

Original Contract Layout

Extended Contract Layout


North Flank Header Alt 2

Woodside Stage 2

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.

Woodside: Facts & Figures

Woodside Stage 2 completed the North Flank of the Inner Ring Road. It was as technically challenging as Stage 1. Here are a few facts about the contract:


1. The twin viaducts which carry the M8 are 360m and 450m long. The majority of the road constructed in the contract was elevated.


2. The beams used in the construction of the viaduct were cast on site. They weigh up to 80 tonnes and were lifted into position in batches over several months.


3. Considerable alterations to the surface street network were made to accommodate the new ring road. This included a remodelling of St. George's Cross and Maryhill Road.


4. Despite the large structures constructed, the cost of this contract was only marginally more expensive than the Townhead stage at £4million.


5. Provision was made for a future connection with the Maryhill Motorway. There are obvious signs of this on the ground. An unused bridge and ghost slip can be seen on the westbound M8 between junctions 16 and 17.  


6. Shortly after this contract was completed, the Scottish Office outlawed slip roads leaving or joining the motorway on the right hand side. Two such examples (the westbound offslip to Charing Cross and eastbound onslip from Great Western Road at J17) were built as part of the scheme.

Woodside Image Gallery

North Flank - Woodside 2 Map

Woodside Aerial Photos

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Also In This Section

M8 Motorway Index

Glasgow Inner Ring Road - Index

Inner Ring Road - West Flank

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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.

Inner Ring Road - South & East Flanks

The South & East Flanks of the IRR proved controversial from the outset and were ultimately cancelled.

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