Poetically described as the North Cheshire motorway, the M56 has the unenviable task of carrying all Manchester-bound traffic from the south and all Cheshire-bound traffic from Manchester.
Upon reaching Manchester, the M56 is one of very few roads to present a metaphysical problem. It appears to stop end-on with the A5103 Princess Parkway and has a spur leaving at this point towards the M60. The Sharston Spur is longer than the remaining stub of motorway, but we can cope with that (there's even a precedent — the M90 does the same). Except that this is junction 3, and junctions 1 and 2 are located on the spur. So is the spur the mainline M56? It's called a spur, and looks like one, but also displays characteristics of a mainline. Perhaps it's a hybrid, in which case we might need a new word. Is it a mainspur? A spuline? Or maybe a spainlur?
Traffic running between the M6 from the south and the M56 towards Manchester is not catered for at the M6/M56 junction. Instead, this traffic is directed to leave a junction early and follow the A556 through the villages of Mere and Bucklow Hill. The desperately needed bypass for this route has been planned for some time. Will it be built? The Highways Agency said yes. Then, they said no, we'll have a study into altering the M6/M56 junction first. The study said the A556 motorway link was best, so the Highways Agency said yes again. And then, just as they started sharpening their pencils, Alastair Darling became Transport Minister and said "no, stop that lads, I've got an idea. Why don't we look into altering the M6/M56 junction instead?". I don't know about you, but I'm banging my head on the desk here.
The M56 has no junction 13. Conspiracy theorists might have you believe it was reserved for the southward extension of the M57 Liverpool Outer Ring Road, but there's a little thing in the way called the Mersey, which is a good mile or two wide at this point. A more likely reason is to provide for future expansion of the Stanlow oil refinery or other nearby industrial complexes.
The M56 never seems long enough. At first it stopped at junction 14, but the A5117 was congested so it was extended to the M53 and then further west to A5117 again. Now guess what? The A5117 beyond there became congested and was replaced with a new high-speed expressway — but it's an A-road and not, unfortunately, the M56.
|Passes||Manchester [air], Warrington, Runcorn, Ellesmere Port|
|Connects to||M6, M53, M60|
With thanks to Roy Greenwood, Bob Henshaw, Peter Edwardson and Tony Moore for information in this section.