M25 fully opens
The 29th of October 1986 AD
Margaret Thatcher marked the completion of the M25 orbital road around London with an opening ceremony on October 29, 1986. The Aquascutum-clad PM hit out at “those who carp and criticize” in her speech, asking instead that a great achievement be celebrated around the world. She was opening the last section to be built, between junctions 22 and 23 – London Colney and South Mimms .
The M25 was a long time in the making, parts of it dating to the early 1970s, when they were intended as components of the London Ringways scheme, various circular routes – the North Circular A406 road was part of this vision – to relieve traffic congestion in London , and ease transit for those wanting to get from one side of the capital to another.
The project has many of the hallmarks of 20th-century British planning. It was done piecemeal, with almost 40 public inquiries required to see it through. The cost was budgeted at £632m and by 1986 it was estimated to have risen to more than £900m, and heaven knows what the widening and other work has added since.
Originally intended in its M25 guise as a way of hastening the passage of traffic not bound for London, the planners bowed to public pressure and it became a commuter route, with far more exits than envisaged in the early plans.
Many voices were raised advising that the road be built at least six lanes, and possibly more, from the outset (those carping types lambasted by Mrs Thatcher). It was planned longer term to take 100,000 vehicles a day, and was built with four lanes to cope with this. Ever since it seems to have been undergoing widening, with some short sections now up to 12 lanes. The 100,000 vehicles per day mark was passed in a year, and there are places where 250,000 vehicles use it daily.
The 117 miles of motorway (plus a little bit of A road, the Dartford Crossing is the A282 so non-motorway traffic can use the bridge and tunnel here) regularly enjoys 73 miles of traffic jams. Like housing developments built without a pub, the M25 had little or nothing in the way of facilities for drivers in the early years.
But it is not all doom-and-gloom. London has been spared the total traffic meltdown that would surely have happened had the alternative route around rather than through it not been built. And eventually there were services provided, though sadly not on the western section, where drivers caught in the slow hell of peak time traffic need a camel’s ability to go without a drink if they are thirsty, or a bladder of steel if they have already had one.
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