Posted by: wesleyjohnston | January 14, 2013

Construction of the M1 motorway Northern Ireland – 45 years on

The M1 motorway – the first motorway on the island of Ireland – was constructed in phases between 1962 and 1968. Last year we celebrated its 50th birthday on 10 July 2012, the anniversary of the opening of the first stretch from Donegall Road in Belfast to the Saintfield Road, Lisburn. After that, the rest of the M1 appeared in just six years. The 45th anniversary of the completion of the M1 (in its original form) will fall on 29 January this year, 2013.

Sequence of Construction

However, the M1 was not constructed in sequence out from Belfast as might be imagined. Although centrally funded, the County Councils had a lot of input, meaning that work progressed separately in Down, Armagh and Tyrone. It was agreed that County Down would be responsible for looking after the stretch from Belfast to Moira, County Armagh the stretch from there to Verner’s Bridge (between j13 and j14) and County Tyrone from Verner’s Bridge to Dungannon.

The construction of the M1 therefore proceeded in a somewhat piecemeal manner, leading to periods where there was more than one part of the motorway. For example during most of 1965 the M1 could carry you from Belfast to Sprucefield, but you then had to trundle along the existing roads through Moira, Lurgan and Portadown before you could finally rejoin a stretch of the M1 at The Birches for the remaining journey into County Tyrone. The maps below show how work progressed, showing progress at 31st December each year.  Roads constructed during that year are shown in blue. The planned route is shown as a dashed line.


Click to enlarge. Maps ©Wesley Johnston

Cost of Construction

The entire motorway cost the equivalent of £425m in 2009 prices. With a total length of about 62 km, this is considerably cheaper per mile than today’s proposed A5 upgrade, which is currently estimated to cost £844m for a length of 88km. You can find a table of sections, opening dates, lengths and costs on the Northern Ireland Roads Site.

The graph below shows the cost of each stretch of the M1, per kilometre. Since inflation was about 23% over this six year period, I’ve adjusted the prices to their 2009 equivalent to ensure that they can be compared with each other in a meaningful way.


You can immediately see that the two most expensive stretches were the stretch from Donegall Road to Stockman’s Lane in Belfast, and the the stretch from Ballynacor to The Birches (which was the last to be built). The explanation is fairly straightforward – both stretches involved crossing very poor ground. In the former case it was the wetlands of the Bog Meadows; in the latter it was the peatland north west of Portadown, which required the removal of 4.5 million cubic yards of peat.

By contrast, the cheapest sections were those from Belfast to Lisburn and from Lisburn to Lurgan which crossed relatively flat, good quality land. In particular, the stretch from Lisburn to Moira utilised the route of the disused Lagan Navigation which reduced costs a good bit, although this was a decision that we have come to regret in an era when the Navigation has become valued once again.

Temporary Termini

In most cases as the motorway was being built, the various stretches of the M1 temporarily terminated at one of the future junctions. However, there were two exceptions where a stretch of motorway ended at a place where there is no junction today.

The first was at the western end of the stretch of the M1 from Lurgan to Portadown. Since the M1 did not exist west of Portadown, and the M12 motorway had not yet been extended all the way to the Northway, all M1 traffic simply headed up the M12 offslip and terminated on Charlestown Road (see map below) from November 1967 until two months later when the M1 to the west of here was opened. The temporary terminus of the M12 on Charlestown Road, howoever, presumably lasted until the M12 was extended, but I do not have a note of the date of this date – does anyone know? All of this means that the first 1.4 km of the M12 motorway was actually originally the terminus of the M1, albeit for just two months. I don’t know for certain, but the odd curved fence boundary at the Charlestown Road at this location may be a relic of this temporary terminus, as it does not appear on maps from before the 1960s. I’ve marked it in red below.

The second non-junction temporary terminus on the M1 was at Verner’s Bridge, between junctions 13 and 14. The reason is that this spot is adjacent to the Armagh/Tyrone county boundary. Back then roads were built separately by each county, and this is where County Armagh’s stretch from The Birches ended when it opened in December 1964. It took County Tyrone until December 1967 to open their (only) stretch from Verner’s Bridge to Dungannon. During this three year period the M1 suddenly veered left and terminated adjacent to Tamnamore School (now gone). This is shown *approximately* on the map below (I haven’t got a detailed map of the exact arrangement, so this is partly speculative). A temporary footbridge was provided for school children for the three years due to the awkward situation of having a motorway terminating beside a school.

Once again I’m speculating a bit, but I wonder if the strange diagonal line (running almost exactly west-east) on the ground in these industrial yards might be a relic of the route of the M1 during these three years? However, the best clue is that, when seen from the motorway, the raised embankment carrying the M1 inexplicably curves to the left at the exact same location (see below)! Surely a smoking gun.

Of the remaining junctions on the M1, only j2 Stockman’s Lane,  j13 Derryhubbert and j14 Tamnamore were opened in full without ever being a terminus. All the others were temporary termini at one time or another. The final junction, j15 Stangmore at Dungannon, was in fact a temporary terminus for the longest – 13 years – from its completion in December 1967 until the opening of the A4 Dungannon Bypass in 1980. In 1967 it had seemed so certain that the bypass would be built soon, and that it would be a dual-carriageway, that the first half mile or so was actually built but left unopened. It lay this way for years, slowly cultivating weeds. The excellent photo below shows the view west from Stangmore roundabout onto the completed but unopened stretch of road beneath shortly before it was finally incorporated into the Dungannon Bypass in 1980. In fact, the remainder of the Bypass was built as a single-carriageway (and dualled in 2009).


© Copyright Albert Bridge and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Finally, one junction was a temporary terminus but has since become permanent! This is junction 1, Donegall Road, which was built in 1962 as a temporary terminus. The actual plan was to terminate the M1 on the Belfast Urban Motorway near Grosvenor Road, but this was not possible in 1962 due to lack of agreement on the route and the controversial nature of land acquisition through the residential areas of Roden Street. The idea was that once the Urban Motorway opened, the M1 would soar over Donegall Road on stilts and there would be no junction. You can see this on the map below from the 1969 Transportation Plan (the Donegall Road is a green line running left-right; the junction at the bottom left is Stockman’s Lane; the junction shown north of Stockman’s Lane was the so-called “Bog Meadows Junction” that was proposed briefly in the late 1960s but never built):


After much delay, the Urban Motorway was eventually downgraded to a surface level dual-carriageway – Westlink – and instead of being removed, the temporary terminus at Donegall Road was in fact greatly expanded to become the Broadway Roundabout that drivers know and hate love today.

This seems as good a moment as ever to let you all know that I have spent the past five years researching the history of the Belfast Urban Motorway in detail, and intend to publish a book on the subject within the next few months. More details will follow over the next month or two.

Missing Junction Numbers

Anyone who has taken more than a cursory look at the M1 will see that it is missing some numbers. In fact, there were four missing numbers in the original scheme:

  • Junction 3 – This number was reserved for the proposed M11 motorway, which would have diverged from the M1 and headed round the north of Lisburn. (You can find more information on the original motorway plans here.)
  • Junction 4 – This number was reserved for a possible junction on the Lisburn Road near Black’s Road.
  • Junction 5 – This number was reserved for the proposed M8 motorway which would have diverged from the M1 just east of Lisburn and headed paralleled the Hillhall Road towards east Belfast.
  • Junction 8 – This number was also reserved for the proposed M11 motorway which, having gone round the north of Lisburn, would have re-crossed the M1 west of Sprucefield before heading south to Newry. Although the M11 was planned, this number was later recycled for the Blaris junction (see below).

Later Changes

The M1 has not remained static in the 45 years since its completion. There have been a range of alterations:

  • 1988 – The junction for the Lisburn Road at Blacks’ Road was finally built, but with Belfast-facing sliproads only. It took the junction number 3, since the M11 had been abandoned many years before.
  • 1991 – West-facing sliproads were added at M1 junction 11, where the M12 diverges at Ballynacor.
  • 2003 – The Blaris junction was built adjacent to Sprucefield to relieve the latter junction. It took the number 8, originally reserved for the M11. At the same time, west-facing sliproads at the Sprucefield junction were closed.
  • 2004 – The M1 was widened to dual three lanes from Black’s Road to Stockman’s Lane (details).
  • 2006 – M1 hard shoulder bus lane opened to Ballyskeagh (half way between j3 and j6).
  • 2008 – Grade separated junction opened at Broadway (j1) and M1 widened to dual three lanes from Broadway to Stockman’s Lane (details).

Future plans include the provision of west-facing sliproads at Black’s Road and the provision of direct flyover links with the A1 at Sprucefield. In the even longer term it has also been suggested that the M1 should be widened to dual three lanes from Black’s Road to Sprucefield.

Further Reading

Those who are keen to read more about the construction of the M1 might find the web site of The Motorway Archive interesting.
There is further information on the M1 in its current form on my web site.



  1. Just came across your blog….
    The west route of the M1 and not South was a political decision of the Unionist controlled Gov at the time
    “We cannot route this Motorway down to the Catholic/Nationalist town of Newry “

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