Spaghetti Junction (Birmingham)/ Gravelly Hill Interchange

Year:1972

Duration:4 years

Cost:£10.8m

Country: Birmingham, United Kingdom

What did this project achieve?

Gravelly Hill Interchange, more commonly known as Spaghetti Junction, sits at junction 6 of the M6 motorway in Birmingham. It became famous for its unique, pasta-like appearance, and as Britain’s first free-flowing interchange without traffic lights or roundabouts.

It was the key part of the Midland Links project to connect the M1 (London to Yorkshire), M5 (Birmingham to South Wales) and M6 (Birmingham to Preston) motorways. These routes were the three main parts of the UK’s National Motorway Network.

Connecting routes

The Ministry of Transport instructed Sir Owen Williams and Partners as the consulting engineers to investigate options for connecting the three routes in 1958.

The engineers decided that a direct route would create better connections to the main population areas than a longer peripheral road avoiding densely built-up areas. To limit the amount and cost of demolition needed to create a direct route, they decided to use existing routes going over canals, rivers and roads.

The route consists of 43 miles of rural motorway, 23 miles of urban motorway, and 17 junctions. Civil engineers also constructed 13¼ miles of viaducts, mainly over the River Tame. At the time, it also created the longest continuous viaduct in Great Britain with the 3½ mile section between Gravelly Hill and Castle Bromwich.

How Spaghetti Junction came to be

Construction of the junction started in 1968, and took four years, completing in 1972. It cost £10 million at the time.

A multi-level junction at Gravelly Hill that enabled the M6 to intersect with the existing junction on the A38 Lichfield Road and with the Aston Ring Road, and a junction at Ray Hall are the two most important junctions on the route.

It was this complex intersection of multiple traffic lanes – over five different levels - which led to a Birmingham Mail journalist describing the junction as resembling a ‘plate of spaghetti’ and an unnamed subeditor on the local paper calling it ‘Spaghetti Junction’ in the headline. The name stuck, and has been used to describe similar-looking junctions around the world as well.

Materials

The Spaghetti Junction was made with 13,000 tons of steel reinforcement and 170,000 cubic yards (134,000 m3) of concrete. It is supported by 559 concrete columns, with the highest being 80ft tall.

Making way for the Spaghetti Junction

A factory, a bank, 160 houses, a block of flats and the Erdington Arms pub were some of the properties demolished to make way for the interchange.

Three water mains, a gas main and a 24-way Post Office cable duct were also some of the utilities that were diverted during construction.

When the road was officially opened by the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Peter Walker MP, on 24 May 1972, the average flow of cars on the Spaghetti Junction was 40,000 a day. This rose to 140,000 in 2002, and more than 210,000 in 2012.

Fascinating facts

Michelin-starred chef Glynn Purnell created a dish in 2018 for Highways England, to celebrate 50 years since work started on the construction of the Spaghetti Junction. Using ingredients local to the area, the dish, called ‘Truffled A38’, comprises celeriac, Maris Piper potatoes, double cream, fresh parsley, Berkswell cheese, garnished with truffle and seasoned with salt and ground ginger. See the recipe.

If you were to drive along every road of the junction itself, you would have to travel around 73 miles.

Spaghetti Junction has become such an intrinsic part of Birmingham’s culture and history that The Birmingham City University Student Union named its official magazine after it.

Project milestones

  • 1958 – The Ministry of Transport commissions engineers to investigate how to connect the M1, M5 and M6 motorways.
  • August 1968 – The Ministry of Transport approves and announces the development of the interchange; construction starts.
  • 24 May 1972 – Spaghetti Junction officially opened by Secretary of State for the Environment, Peter Walker MP.
  • 24 May 1972 - First motorists use Spaghetti Junction.

People who made it happen

  • Client – Ministry for Transport (now known as Department for Transport)
  • Consulting engineers – Sir Owen Williams and Partners

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