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Tarmac celebrate 60th anniversary of UK’s first motorway

Preston Bypass

Motorway’s main contractor speaks to former colleague who worked on the Preston Bypass in the 1950s

TARMAC are celebrating their key role in constructing the UK’s first motorway, the Preston Bypass, which turns 60 this month. The company was the main contractor on the groundbreaking eight-mile highway, which is now part of the M6 and M55.

To celebrate their part in shaping the nation’s motoring history, Tarmac spoke to former a colleague, John Baxter, 85, who worked on the Preston Bypass 60 years ago.

Mr Baxter, a section engineer on the landmark project, said: ‘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.

Mr Baxter recalled: ‘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.’

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

Tarmac continue to have an active presence in Preston, with two concrete facilities in the company’s nationwide network located in the city.

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