The Motorway Archive
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What is the Motorway Archive?
Work on developing the UK Motorway system, which transformed British travel, started in the mid-1950s. The Motorway Archive celebrates the engineering achievement involved in the conception, planning, design and construction of this transport network by thousands of dedicated professionals. The Archive itself is a collection of as many of the documents and artefacts, which were associated with the development, as it has been possible to find. From this wealth of material has come the story of each motorway developed in Britain over the last 50 years. This is the story of an urban motorway, subsequently declassified.


Region: London

A102(M). Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach road

NOTE: Following the formation of Transport for London (TfL), this road was reclassified in May 2000. This change was required because the Greater London Authority (GLA) Act does not give the Mayor for London powers to be the highway authority for motorways, but these roads were being transferred to the Mayor. It was therefore necessary to remove their motorway status before June 2000 when the Mayor took office. The Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach road is now simply a section of A102.

map looking north - 1969

This was one of the four independent sections of urban motorway in London, which built by the Greater London Council (GLC) during the period 1967 to 1973, funded by the Council with 25% government grant.

This road was also built under Parliamentary powers, promoted in the same LCC Bill as Westway. Design was well advanced in 1965 when the GLC took control; with land acquisition and some diversion. of statutory undertakers apparatus. The same decision to add hard shoulders was taken in 1966. They were accommodated for most of the length of the road within the land defined in the Bill.

The Council's architects department provided advice on appearance, one aspect of which was retaining wall facing which was specified to have a rough 'elephant house' finish in which vertical ribs were randomly hacked. The ribs looked so good upon casting, the architects were persuaded that they should be left untouched.

The road is dual 3-lane and runs from the Shooters Hill, which it underpasses, to Blackwall Tunnel whose duplication was underway in 1965; the first major in-house civil engineering contract let by the GLC was for the third and final phase of the tunnel for carriageway and wall lining.

There are two overbridges close to Shooters Hill and two prestressed concrete flyovers, at Woolwich Road and Blackwall Lane, each incorporating the BBRV system of prestressing; the wires in each cable were specified to run untwisted between end blocks.

At Shooters Hill the plan was to continue by a new route, designated the Dover Radial, to the A2 at the Black Prince. This road was under construction at the abolition of the GLC in 1986 as the Rochester Way Relief Road, and was completed for the Department of Transport in 1988 under the direction of their consultants, Bullen and Partners.

Between the two flyovers the road ran over 500m of marshland, peat and silts. It was judged unreasonable to suffer undue settlement on London's first urban motorway, and a piled road was proposed, which after technical discussions with the Ministry of Transport was agreed and accepted for grant.

As it was not feasible to have other than a rigid connection between pile heads and the road structure, a pre-contract test on a group of precast concrete piles were installed. They were loaded vertically and jacked apart horizontally, to simulate and measure induced forces due to thermal expansion of the road as well as provide load/settlement characteristics.

The new road crossed the line of Roman Watling Street in cutting, and a clause in the contract provided for archaeological examination if it was discovered. It was not.

The work was let to Fitzpatrick for just over 4.2M. The Conditions of Contract were the GLC form, basically ICE fourth edition with the addition of minor clauses relating to trade unions and sub-contractors. This form was also used for Westway.

The overall cost of the scheme with land acquisition and preliminary works was 9.7M.

Desmond Plummer the Council's leader, inaugurated this second motorway project on 2 August 1967 at a ceremony which included the opening of the new Blackwall Tunnel to traffic. The old tunnel was simultaneously closed that day for the start of refurbishment work. The triple coincidental arrangement was not a facile engineering management operation.

Southern terminus

The scheme was completed in 1969, ahead of Westway, and such were the good relations which the Engineer's Representative forged with residents' associations, they made a him a presentation when the road finished in marked contrast to the events when Westway opened.


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