Churchill away

Published on 18 September 2020

Liverpool's Churchill Way flyovers would have been 50 this year, but they were demolished at the end of 2019. While they stood they dominated the city centre landscape around Liverpool's central library, station and museum. Bryn Buck took a trip to Merseyside to see what's left now the bridges are gone.

A Concrete Society award, now gone. Click to enlarge
A Concrete Society award, now gone. Click to enlarge

If you're not familiar with Liverpool you might not know the Churchill Way flyovers, and even if you are familiar with Liverpool, chances are you still very rarely had cause to use them. A pair of elevated roads, one running east and one west, they linked some of the huge dual carriageway relief roads around Islington and Lime Street to the city centre one way system formed by Great Crosshall Street and Dale Street. Designed to fit in with wider changes to the street network that never came to pass, for the last half century they didn't really do much at all, and the traffic passing along them was always comparatively light.

In 1971 the Concrete Society gave the flyovers their annual award, which was appropriately enough made of concrete itself and attached to the north flyover. Unfortunately that was about the pinnacle of the praise that Churchill Way ever received.

Designed in the early 1960s, the flyovers were meant to untangle the difficult space at the mouth of the Queensway Tunnel, which - at the time - was the only road link between Liverpool and the Wirral, and which dumped all its traffic straight into the city centre on Byrom Street, next to many of Liverpool's fine civic buildings. They opened to traffic in 1970.

The idea was that Byrom Street could be freed up to form an artery leading to and from the tunnel if the major conflicting traffic flow was lifted up and out of the way, that being traffic heading to and from the city centre from the east. Vehicles approaching Liverpool from Edge Lane and the East Lancs Road would be diverted onto two new flyover structures that would let them soar over the queues for the tunnel and head straight into the city.

An early plan showing the two flyovers in red and the Queensway Tunnel approaches in grey. Click to enlarge
An early plan showing the two flyovers in red and the Queensway Tunnel approaches in grey. Click to enlarge

Except it never really worked out like that. The Queensway Tunnel was relieved by the newer Kingsway Tunnel just a few years later, massively reducing its traffic problems. The Liverpool Inner Motorway and the huge associated changes to the street network never came to pass. And as the streets of Liverpool were updated in the absence of those plans, the flyovers never found their place. Look at a street plan of Liverpool and you can immediately see that they never really led to anything at the eastern end, and indeed running parallel to them is a much bigger and busier dual carriageway at surface level whose traffic could never make use of them.

In late 2018 a structural survey found that they had been built with substandard materials and were seriously unsafe, and faced with a £60m repair bill, Liverpool City Council decided to bring in the demolition crews, at a still-eyewatering cost of £5.7m. Between September and December 2019 they were taken down.

Now that Churchill Way has gone away, what's this unloved patch of central Liverpool like? Bryn Buck, author of the Show Me A Sign blog, has been to take a look.

A reminder of the past

From Bryn's tour of the mouth of the Queensway Tunnel from 2005, here's a quick look at what was there when the flyovers still stood.

From west to east

Fast forward to 2020, then, and the flyovers are gone. This first part of the tour follows the line of the northern flyover, from Great Crosshall Street to Lime Street.

From east to west

The second part of the tour traces the line of the curved southern flyover, which used to carry traffic towards the city centre.

More from Bryn

Bryn's Show Me A Sign blog covers everything to do with modern highway engineering - from low traffic neighbourhoods to the evolution of motorway signs.


Neil Fitzgerald 2 October 2020

Thanks for this blog. A very interesting read indeed. Thank you for the time you've taken to snapshot history here.

Nick Jenkins 4 October 2020

Although, as you correctly say, these flyovers were by the Queensway Tunnel, the 1/2500 OS plan base on which the proposals are drawn clearly calls it the Kingsway Entrance. I went over there (from Ellesmere Port) in November when they were still clearing the rubble away and took a few photographs which I could send on to you if you wish.

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