Nobody celebrates a new road these days. There's no ceremony, no fanfare. No mementos for the locals to keep. No fanfare or cheering. There's rarely a ribbon to cut and a distinct shortage of little bronze plaques. And, of course, there's no glossy booklets to record what an achievement it all was.
Partly this is because it isn't an achievement. We've built a lot of roads in the last century and it's not a big thing any more. And partly it's because roads just aren't something to celebrate any more. Today they're done quietly for fear of an environmental backlash, as if building a road gives civil servants a guilty conscience and the whole thing is better forgotten.
Until the 1970s, the Department of Transport usually issued a booklet of some kind to mark the opening ceremony. This part of the site lets you see just what was in them - rare, archive photos of newly-opened roads that have changed beyond all recognition and, just sometimes, a glimpse of what was planned at the time but never saw the light of day.
The "Preston By-Pass" was Britain's first motorway, opened in 1958 by the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. The road that appeared then was barely a motorway by today's standards - two lanes each way with soft shoulders, a broad central reserve with a hedge, and just one junction in the middle. It ended at a roundabout on the A6 to the north and south of Preston.
These booklets were published to accompany the inauguration and then the official opening of the motorway, and show a road that bears almost no resemblance to the M6 of today.
Preston Bypass Opening Booklet
PDF document (2.6 Mb) prestonbypass.pdf
Preston Bypass Inauguration Booklet
PDF document (1.7 Mb) pbinauguration.pdf
M25 Orbital Motorway
The M25 is either one of the greatest transport achievements of the 20th century or one of Britain's largest planning failures, depending on which way you look at it. This booklet takes the former view, celebrating the completion of the circuit in 1986.
It is a self-congratulation exercise for the Department of Transport, running to 60 pages, but it's also a mutual appreciation exercise for all the companies involved, who all have large adverts celebrating what they did and how generally wonderful they are. It's as interesting from a cultural angle as anything else - £899 for a BT carphone?!
Of particular note is the way it quickly skims over the London Ringways plan - a story which, if told in full, would reveal the M25 as the botched sticking-plaster that it is.
M25 Orbital Motorway Opening Booklet
PDF document (7.1 Mb) m25orbital.pdf
M2 Motorway and Medway Bridge
The Medway Motorway, or Medway Towns Bypass, was opened in around 1965 as a handy way to get past Chatham, Gillingham and Rochester. The whole of the M2 was pretty much one big project, and these two booklets commemorate the opening of the road itself and the Medway Bridge, its major engineering feature. The motorway's western end has been upgraded out of all recognition from these documents in the last few years.
M2 Motorway Opening Booklet
PDF document (1.2 Mb) m2motorway.pdf
Medway Bridge Opening Booklet
PDF document (1 Mb) m2medway.pdf
To contrast with the M2 booklets above, these documents describe the upgrade work which was carried out in the last few years to improve the A2 west of the M2.
They serve as a fascinating contrast to the M2 booklets. Back in the 1960s, some monochrome booklets were published and then only when the road was finished. Today we get full-colour pamphlets every few months, distributed to anyone who lives nearby, for a widening scheme. They are preserved here as examples of current Highways Agency practice.
Thanks to Josh Pettman for providing them.
A2 Pepperhill to Cobham - Spring 2008
PDF document (788 Kb) a2update.pdf
Skelmersdale Link to M6
The North-West's first New Town was at Skelmersdale. The place isn't exactly a favourite with the locals these days, but back in 1970, it represented the beginning of a new era. It could be said that the town came of age when its fledgeling road network was first connected to the wider world with this section of road, since turned into part of the M58.
The booklet explains the future plans for the area, including the extension of the road east across the south of Wigan, and also shows some planned junction layouts in Skelmersdale that never saw the light of day.
Skelmersdale Link to M6
PDF document (3.7 Mb) skelmersdale.pdf
The top of this page says that there are no glossy booklets to record the achievement of a new road opening. Largely, that's true, but sometimes a little glimmer of pride in a job well done is allowed to shine through.
One very recent example, worth recording here for its rarity as much as anything else, is the A505 Baldock Bypass. Opened in 2006 by Hertfordshire County Council, it is a fairly standard modern bypass, with the exception that a cut-and-cover tunnel was built along the route to preserve the skyline where it cuts through the Weston Hills. Presented here are two booklets, one describing the design and construction of the road, and the other commemorating its opening.
Baldock Bypass Construction
PDF document (5.1 Mb) baldock_construct.pdf
Baldock Bypass Opening
PDF document (1.8 Mb) baldock_open.pdf