Building Britain’s Roads
The perfect opportunity for a fairly rudimental and basic Northern European society to bring itself enlightenment and civilisation appeared in AD46, in the shape of the Roman Army and might of the Roman Empire.
In the following four hundred years after the invasion of Britain, the romans built forts, strongholds, villas, towns, and cities. They built viaducts and bridges, and possibly the finest asset the country could have, the roman roads.
After the romans left, the natives, instead of capitalising on this most advantageous feature of civil engineering, as with most things of roman origin they chose to completely ignore them, going back to mud and stone tracks and paths for over a millennium.
It took some thirteen hundred years for Britons to wake up to the importance of roads in the infrastructure of society, and two engineers, Thomas Telford, and John McAdam, independently developed methods of road construction, in not a dissimilar fashion to roman road construction, which proved durable, and in the case of McAdam’s, fully economically viable for national expansion.
These roads carried the brunt of the industrial revolution, but as the twentieth century arrived, so did another road user, the motor car.
The government was aware of the potential of the motor car, and also the dilapidated and unsuitability of much of the country’s road network, and set up a body which collected road tax from motorists with good intent to spend the revenue on road maintenance and building,
The First World War and Government changes saw the formation of the Ministry of Transport which proceeded to authorise limited road construction, including e few lengths of dual carriage way.
Although there was obviously little road construction during the second war, plans were drawn up for the vision of Britain’s roads following victory. A type of road that excluded all others but motor traffic was planned, based on the German autobahns, and by 1956, the first motorway, the M6 Preston bypass opened, followed in 1959 by a sixty mile section of the M1.
Motorway construction continued throughout the sixties and seventies, and trunk roads upgraded to dual carriageways, town and city bypasses sprang up, with ultimate ring road opening in 1986, the M25.
With the new millennium, new road building has not been overly encouraged by successive governments, but with the expertise, knowledge and the necessary sophisticated heavy machinery in place, road building today is more exercise than pioneering achievement.