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Tarmac celebrates sixtieth anniversary of UK’s first motorway

Tarmac is celebrating its important role in constructing the UK’s first motorway, the Preston Bypass, which turns 60 in December.  

The leading construction solutions company was the main contractor on the ground-breaking eight-mile highway, now part of the M6 and M55. To celebrate its part in shaping the nation’s motoring history, Tarmac has spoken to former colleagues who worked on the Preston Bypass 60 years ago.  

John Baxter, 85, was a section engineer on the landmark project: “I was invited to an interview in Wolverhampton and they asked if I wanted to work on the first motorway. I said, ‘sounds pretty good’ and went to Preston. I was in charge of a mile-long section of the motorway, marking out where the earth had to be dug out, then where the junction came in.”

The bypass was a test-bed for both technology and design, with two lanes in each direction and a broad central reservation complete with a hedge to reduce dazzle from oncoming headlights. Approximately 3.4 million tonnes of earth were excavated, but sustained periods of torrential rain made the project more difficult.  

John recalls: “There were a few challenges along the way: it was the wettest winter we’d had, drainage was a problem, the ground on the embankments was silty and landowners weren’t very sympathetic.

“We overcame these with a good team of engineers, and an even better leader in John Cox, who was what you’d now call the project manager. He always kept up morale, for example every couple of months he’d get the lads together for a social, which we’d all look forward to.”

Preston Bypass 2

Experienced project management helped to minimise delays to the delivery of the Preston Bypass, which was officially opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on December 5th 1958 following nearly two and a half years of construction.

Tarmac continues to have an active presence in Preston, with two facilities from its nationwide network located in the city.  Its Red Scar and Preston Bold St sites produce concrete essential to building projects across the North of England. The company’s Yorkshire contracting team have also recently started surfacing works on the main Penwortham bypass carriageway.


Tarmac celebrates sixtieth anniversary of UK’s first motorway

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