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M1 Motorway approaches 60


The M1 is one of Britain’s oldest motorways, having now been open for 60 years


The M1 was built in four phases; the first section was completed in 1959 between Watford and Crick/Rugby and is now known as Junction 5 and Junction 18. Between 1977 and 1999, a connection between Brent Cross and Page Street was created and the M1 section north of the M62 was reconstructed linking Leeds to Hook Moor.

The whole motorway was officially completed in 1999 and cost roughly £26 million, which would be around £400 million in today’s currency. It was the greatest single road project that had ever been attempted in Britain. And of course, it succeeded!

The M1 is 193 miles long, allowing travel between London and Leeds in just over three and a half hours. Before the M1 was built, this journey would have taken around seven hours and cost three times as much in fuel.

When the M1 was designed, it was predicted that approximately 20,000 cars would use it per day. However, more than 140,000 cars now use it daily; and with plans to extend the motorway, this number will grow.

According to the AA, when the M1 was first opened, there was less traffic than there is today, although there was no speed limit on any stretch of the M1 at all. This meant that overheating and blown engines were the most common call-outs. There was also no central reservation, crash barriers or lighting. Due to this, the year the M1 opened the road fatalities went up to 6,520 from 5,970 the previous year. There has been speculation that the reasoning for this could be related to the new motorway not having the safety measures that are in place today. It wasn’t until around 1973 that an announcement came out that safety barriers would be put in place following the lighting which would be completed during that same year.

Watford Gap services opened its doors the same day that the M1 was officially opened, so they are the oldest service stations in the UK. They were original run by a company called Blue Boar, and are now run by Roadchef, and have been since 1995. Little Chef also opened in Reading and have grown from one restaurant with 11 seats to 78 restaurants between Scotland and Cornwall.

Going from no speed limits when it first opened, to the present day, parts of the M1 now operate on a new technology-based speed limit system. There is a control room at the East Midlands Regional Control Centre where they can control speed limits depending on what is happening on the road at the time. During high congestion, they can drop the advisory speed limit to help aid driver’s safety and traffic flow. They can also control the variable message signs to warn drivers of upcoming hazards and traffic information.

The M1 has become a huge part of travelling in the UK, with work still being done to expand it.

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