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Frontier of knowledge

The editorial team


Professor Ron Bridle BSc, FREng, FICE, FIHT, FRSA formerly Chief Highway Engineer for the Department of Transport, Controller of Research and Development and Director of the Transport and Road Research Laboratory.

Chapter 1: The motorway programme: planning and engineering

Maurice Maggs BSc, CEng, FICE, FIHT formerly Head of Engineering Intelligence Division of the Department of Transport

Chapter 2: The introduction of computers

Brian Hawker OBE, CEng, FIStructE, FRSH, MIHT formerly Head of Roads Major Projects in the Welsh Office

Chapter 3: Route alignment and road geometry

Bill Gallagher BSc, CEng, MICE, MIHT formerly Head of Highway Computing and Director Transport in the South West Regional Office of the Department of Transport

Chapter 4: Earthworks and drainage

Maurice Maggs BSc, CEng, FICE, FIHT formerly Head of Engineering Intelligence Division of the Department of Transport

Chapter 5: Structural design of pavements

John Porter MSc(Eng), CEng, FICE formerly Head of Highways Research at the Transport and Road Research Laboratory

Chapter 6: The development of bridge design practice

Phillip Lee CBE, CEng, FICE, FIHT formerly Director South East Regional Office of the Department of Transport and Director Ove Arup and Partners

Chapter 7: Contracting to build the motorways

John Cox FICE, FIHT formerly Chairman Tarmac National Construction, Vice Chairman Tarmac (now Carrilion Construction) International and Past President of the Institution of Highway Engineers

Chapter 8: Motorway Communications and control

Derek Clark MIEE formerly Head of Traffic Communication and Control Division and Chief Electrical Engineer of the Department of Transport

The archive information for all of the Volume 2 material is held at the Transport research Laboratory. Click on the "archive information" button for more information.


Sir William Harris, KCB CB MA DSc FREng FICE FIHT

I am pleased to have been asked to write this Preface. The Motorway Archive, of which this volume is but a part, would not have been possible without a great deal of effort by former colleagues and friends. I would like to express my personal gratitude to the initiators of this project and to all who have contributed to it and hope that they fully realise their visionary aims.

This volume is concerned with the development of improved technology and the creation of appropriate technical standards to deliver the Government’s motorway programme. The story is told by those who took part and covers the whole range of activities and events that made up the motorway programme; it deals with the technical challenges presented and how they were overcome. The language in which the story is told should be comprehensible to the lay reader and the explanations are easy to follow. The compilers have clearly set an aim of telling a social history, logically, coherently and simply and they have achieved that. The mixture is varied, from computers to contracting and the variety in itself should keep the reader’s attention. The overall quality of the work came as no surprise to me; it has evidently been prepared with the same enthusiasm and professionalism as was shown by its compilers during the creation of Britain’s motorway network.

When the Government first launched the motorway programme, the structure needed to translate policy into practice, plan networks, undertake design, let contracts and see them successfully constructed was scarcely adequate, which was to be expected since there had been a dearth of investment in new roads since before the 1939/45 war.

As the newly appointed Director General (Highways) it was my task to ensure that an organisation was put in place capable of meeting increasing demands in delivering the Government’s policy and targets for construction of the motorway network. The programme was voracious in its demand for specialist staff and road making equipment and included very many interchanges, and bridges and other major civil engineering works.

The formulation and delivery of any policy demands that the resource need to meet the programme be carefully assessed. If there is a shortfall other means of resourcing must be found or the policy cannot be delivered. The organisation put in place to manage the programme must optimise the resources deployed. This may sound trite but it embodies the basic principles of major engineering works, which cannot be ignored as a number of recent problems have shown.

Of course, the future cannot be predicted with certainty and as might be expected not all went smoothly in the motorway programme. Nonetheless, I am pleased to say that the structure we developed proved resilient and, with good staff in critical roles, target dates were met, continuing technical improvement was sustained, and, in particular, computers and other innovative technologies were exploited to the full.

The Road Construction Units (RCU) established in 1967 provided the executive framework for delivery of the programme. Six RCU Headquarters were charged with planning and coordination of work on a regional basis. There were many interests to be satisfied in setting up the structure and some to be put aside. Initially RCU Sub Units were recruited mainly from local government offices, but ultimately they became of more mixed origin and enabled practical experience to be gained by civil servants. The competitive mixture of consulting engineer and public design office found in the RCU Sub Units generated a healthy eagerness for innovation and efficient design and helped to achieve appropriate deployment of resources and a close national oversight through the central cooperative working of the RCUs.

Backing this executive pyramid were the central technical and administrative units necessary to ensure central coordination and the application of the most recent technology through the RCUs and the public and private sector teams they supervised. The central structure was undoubtedly strengthened through imports of practical expertise it gained from the RCUs.

The central units in collaboration with the Transport and Road Research Laboratory interfaced with many national and international technical. professional, academic and industrial bodies. In particular, close consultation with the Association of Consulting Engineers and the Federation of Civil Engineering Contractors were important in establishing confidence and encouraging the industry to invest in developing the specialist teams, plant and materials without which the pace of construction could not have been sustained. In addition the Department gained from unstinting advice from leading engineers who served on advisory committees and the like.

Readers will find criticisms of the Department in the various chapters of this volume, particularly in Chapter 7 which contains some no doubt heartfelt criticisms of contracting practice as viewed by contractors. Elsewhere criticisms are related to the slow pace of technical progress and the balancing of one thing against another is well set out. Against these criticisms, it has to be borne in mind that safety and assurance of value for money are vital in public enterprises and have to be set against the risks of too early a use of an innovation, which may not have been exhaustively tested. In the event Departmental standards often acted as a step toward a British Standard and have in this way provided a solid base for British negotiation in international standards and European harmonisation.

It is important to have this history on record. As well as this and the companion volumes there is a vast amount of material in the Motorway Archive that can be consulted by researchers. However, the volumes are more than simply an introduction to a store of material for research, they are also an important account of a major civil engineering programme of our time which has had a massive impact on the economy and on society through increased mobility. The motorway programme has made a major impact also in terms engineering development. It can justly be compared with the railway era in increasing mobility as well as in developing more efficient methods of building and operating transport infrastructure. It is timely to place these events on record while those who can recall what it was like to be involved are able to provide a first hand account.

We neglect what has gone before at our peril and are the doomed to repeat the same errors if we do. For all these reasons the volumes should be on the shelves of all universities and technical centres as well as public libraries.