Chronography of Road Construction (also bridges and tunnels); key events

Page last modified 5/11/2021


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Great Britain (London)

4/9/2017, Queen Elizabeth II opened the third Forth Bridge,exactly 53 years after the second (road) bridge was opened by her. The cost of the new bridge was �1.35bn, as against �11.5m (�210m in 2017 prices) for the 2nd bridge. The original road bridge will now be for cyclists and buses only.

20/12/2016, The Eurasia Road Tunnel, under the Bosporus, Istanbul, Turkey, opened to traffic.

9/2006, The �smart motorway� concept was introduced in the UK when the hard shoulder (see 1955) was turned into a traffic lane at peak periods on a 10 mile stretch of the M.42 near Birmingham at peak periods, Journey times dropped by 25% and the scheme was extended to sections of major motorways including the M.1, M.6, M.25, M 62 and M.4. However by 2020 a series of accidents involving vehicles running into the back of broken down cars had raised questions about their safety.

30/1/1997. An underground protest came to an end as the last protestor, known as Swampy, emerged from a tunnel under the proposed A.30.

5/6/1996, The second Severn Road Crossing (Prince of Wales Bridge) opened near Bristol.

29/2/1996, Bailiffs began evicting the Newbury by-pass protestors who had been protesting that the route ran through environmentally-sensitive areas. Contractors had been due to start work on 10/1/1996.

15/10/1995, The road bridge between Skye and the Scottish mainland opened.

30/10/1991. Queen Elizabeth II opened the Queen Elizabeth Bridge over the Thames at Dartford.

29/10/1986. The final section of the M.25 London Orbital Motorway was opened.

17/7/1981, Queen Elizabeth II formally opened the Humber Bridge, then the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world.It had opened to traffic on 24/6/1981.

24/6/1981. The Humber Bridge opened to traffic, and the Humber Ferry, the diesel powered Faringford, made its last crossing between Hull and New Holland. Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the Bridge on 17/7/1981. Work on the Bridge had begun in 1973, but there had been plans for a bridge, or even a tunnel, for several decades before. When opened it was the world�s longest single-span suspension bridge, at 1,410 metres, or 4,636 feet.

11/7/1980. The Britannia road bridge across the Menai Straits was opened.

1975, The construction of motorways and dual carriageways in the UK now gave rise to a new word as such roads underwent repairs; �contraflow�.

23/5/1974. The Avonmouth M.5 Bridge was opened.

16/3/1973. The new London Bridge was opened by the Queen. In 23/9/1968 the foundation stone of the old London Bridge had been laid at Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

27/7/1972, Work began on the Humber Bridge, the world�s longest suspension bridge with a central span of 4,626 feet.Queen Elizabeth II opened it on 17/7/1981.

24/5/1972. Spaghetti Junction opened in Birmingham. It was expected to handle 40,000 vehicles a day when opened, but in 2002, 140,000 vehicles used the junction every day.This was part of the Midlands Link, opened this day, a seven mile stretch opened by Peter Walker, Secretary of State for the Environment.There was now continuous motorway from London to Carlisle.

2/7/1971. The Erskine Bridge over the Clyde was opened.

24/6/1971. In Liverpool, the first tube of the second Mersey Tunnel opened.

2/8/1967, The second Blackwall road tunnel, London, opened (first tunnel opened 22/5/1897).

8/9/1966. Queen Elizabeth II opened the Severn Bridge. The career of ferryman Enoch Williams, who had carried passengers and cars across the Severn estuary since starting his business on the first day of the general Strike 1926, ended.

18/8/1966. The Queen Mother opened the Tay Road Bridge.

4//9/1964. Queen Elizabeth II opened the Forth Road Bridge.It was 6,156 feet long, with a centre span of 3,300 feet. Construction began 21/11/1958.

18/11/1963. The Dartford Tunnel was opened. Initial construction works had begin in 1936, when a pilot tunnel was dug (completed 1938). However further works were delayed due to World War Two, and further tunnel works only resumed in 1959.

3/7/1963, The Clyde Road Tunnel, Glasgow, opened; construction began in 1957.

21/7/1961, Runcorn Bridge, on the River Mersey, opened.It was then the longest steel arch bridge in the UK.

15/8/1960. Britain�s first motorway service station opened to the public, on the M.1 at Newport Pagnell. Motorist Graham Miller was the first to buy food there. The services had opened in 1959 but only for lorry drivers.

2/11/1959. The London to Birmingham motorway opened. The first stretch of the M1 opened on 1/11/1959. Sightseers flocked to look at it.

17/3/1959, The UK Government announced plans for a major expansion of the road network.

5/12/1958. The UK�s first stretch of motorway, 6 � miles of the M6 at Preston, was opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. It took two years to build at a cost of �3,750,000.

21/11/1958, Work began on the Forth Road Suspension Bridge, then the longest suspension bridge in the UK. It was completed in 1964.

1955, The hard shoulder came into use in the UK (see 9/2006), a 3-metre wide strip at the side of a motorway for broken-down vehicles.

11/12/1945. The new Waterloo Bridge, London, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, fully opened.Half its width had been in use since 1942.

13/12/1944, For London, a series of concentric ring roads and green belts were proposed. Two of these correspond to the North Circular and M.25.

11/8/1942. In London, the new Waterloo Bridge opened to traffic.

1937, In the UK, the Trunk Roads Act (1936) became law. Under this Act, the maintenance of 4,500 miles of trunk road became the responsibility of the Ministry of Transport, whilst all other local roads remained under the control of local councils and county highway authorities. Britain now had 11.5 motor vehicles (excluding motor bikes) per mile of road.

29/4/1935.Cats eye� reflectors were used on British roads for the first time. They had been invented in 1934 by Percy Shaw (1890-1976).

18/7/1934. King George V opened the Mersey Tunnel. It was 2.13 miles long and had a diameter of 44 feet, allowing for 4 traffic lanes. See 18/12/1925.

4/4/1934, The first �cat�s eye� studs were laid in the road at an accident black spot, a crossroads near Bradford, Yorkshire, UK.


Pre WW2 fast road development

1939, Main roads acquired lay bys, where vehicles could park temporarily without obstructing the traffic flow. There was sometimes a problem with caravans using these lay bys as a camping site, causing a litter problem as well. The lay by often hosted a �pull-in�, a roadside caf� which is the forerunner of the motorway services.

1933, Dual carriageways began to appear in Britain, to speed up traffic flow. The idea was to make the centre reservation an �amenity� with plants and trees.

30/5/1925. King George V opened the Great West Road at Brentford, London. It was seen as a model for post-War development.

25/3/1925. The new fast London-Southend road was opened.

1909, First use of the term �loop road� for what is now generally called a by-pass, a term used from ca. 1922 onwards. From 1928 the term ring road was also used for a by-pass encircling a town entirely.


17/12/1933, Just for this day, the public were allowed to walk through the newly completed Mersey Tunnel.

3/7/1933, In London, Chiswick and Richmond road bridges opened.

19/7/1932. King George opened London�s Lambeth Bridge.

1931, Traffic Islands, refuges in the centre of busy roads which both directed the traffic and provided a refuge for pedestrians crossing road, came into use.

10/10/1928. The King and Queen opened the new Tyne road bridge.

18/12/1925. Work began on the Mersey Road Tunnel, Liverpool.It opened on 18/7/1934.

6/6/1921. Southwark Bridge opened by the King.It cost �375,000, and replaced an iron bridge built by Sit John Rennie, 1814-19.

21/5/1916, Keadby swing road bridge, Lincolnshire, opened over the River Trent. It was necessary to serve the growing traffic between Immingham Docks (opened 1912) and the developing coalfields of South Yorkshire.

12/6/1908. London's Rotherhithe Tunnel opened.It runs between Rotherhithe and Stepney.

26/5/1906. The rebuilt Vauxhall Bridge over the Thames was reopened.

1/2/1906, The UK Government dropped plans for a fast motor road between London and Brighton.

18/10/1905, Kingsway and Aldwych, London, opened.

10/2/1903, Two new roads in London were named; Kingsway, after King George VII, and Aldwych.

4/8/1902, The Greenwich foot tunnel under the Thames opened. It replaced a ferry that had existed here since 1676.


Tarmac surfacing

3/4/1902, The patent for Tarmac road surfacing was filed by Edgar Purnell Hooley of Nottingham,England. John Macadam, Scottish engineer and General Surveyor of Roads in England from 1827, first tried to improve road surfaces by using crushed stone. This was a major improvement on dirt roads, which could soon become impassable after heavy rain. However they too were problematical in bad weather, and the stones could puncture the tyres of the new automobiles. In 1901 Edgar Hooley, County Surveyor of Nottinghamshire, noticed that a stretch of road at Denby, Derbyshire, was rut-free. He found that a barrel of tar had fallen off a dray, and that waste slag from a nearby blast furnace has been used to cover the tar. Hooley patented the idea but failed to develop it financially. The patent was bought by Sir Alfred Hickman, a steelworks owner in Wolverhampton.

26/11/1836. John McAdam, the road engineer who gave his name to a new type of road surface, tarmac, died, aged 80. He was the son of a banker in Ayr, and developed the idea of a raised road surface of broken stone with a drain either side. See 3/4/1902.

1817, The first stretch of �macadamised� road was laid, in London.

1810, John Mac Adam began experiments in different types of road surface. See 1819.

21/9/1756, John Mac Adam, Scottish surveyor who pioneered the use of tar-macadam for road surfacing, was born in Ayr.


22/5/1897. The Prince of Wales opened the Blackwall Tunnel in London.

30/6/1894. London�s Tower Bridge was officially opened to traffic.Sir Horace Jones and J Wolfe Barry designed it.

21/7/1890, Lord Rosebery opened Battersea Bridge.

1889, Fulham road bridge, London, opened.

18/6/1887, Hammersmith Bridge, London, was opened.

1/5/1883, The new road system at Hyde Park Corner, London, opened.

23/8/1873, The Albert Bridge across the Thames was opened.

1869, Kew road bridge, London, opened.

1869, Holborn Viaduct road bridge, London, opened, after six years construction.

6/11/1869, Blackfriars Bridge, London, opened.

1865, Concrete roads were first trialled in Scotland.

1864, A House of Commons Select Committee began considering the process of eliminating turnpikes on British roads. Ireland had been entirely toll free since 1858, and almost all tolls in south Wales had been discontinued by now, but 854 toll trusts still existed across England and Scotland. Welsh turnpike abolition began after the Rebecca Riots of 1839-43, when many impoverished farmers (dressed as women for disguise, hence the name) protested against turnpike tolls. By 1874 there were just 184 remaining, and by 1876 only 71 were still operating. By 1890 just 2 toll trusts were left, the last one (Anglesey) ceasing operations on 15/10/1895. The Turnpikes had been hard-hit by the railways, and their receipts fell by a third between 1837 and 1850, leaving many barely solvent.

8/12/1864, Brunel�s Clifton Suspension Bridge over the River Avon in Bristol was opened.

1863, Kingston road bridge, London, opened.

1862, Lambeth Bridge, London, opened. The earliest mention of a ferry here is in 1513; this ferry ceased operations when the first Westminister Bridge opened in 1750. The current Lambeth Bridge opened in 1932.

24/5/1862. London�s Westminster Bridge was opened.

1858, Chelsea Bridge, London, was completed. Tolls were charged to cross it until 1879.

1849, Barnes road bridge, London, opened.

1848, Richmond road bridge, London, opened.

1839, Wood-block paved roads were first laid, in England. The wood was treated with creosote then the blocks were bonded together with pitch; the blocks were laid on a concrete foundation.

1835, The Highways Act gave Britain�s 15,000 parishes the power to levy a rate for road maintenance.

2/9/1834. Thomas Telford, born 9/8/1757, died. He was known as the �Colossus of Roads� for his engineering works.He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

1/8/1831. King William IV opened New London Bridge, designed by John Rennie.It lasted 140 years before being dismantled, sold to an American, and rebuilt in Arizona.

1827, Hammersmith Bridge, the first suspension bridge in London, opened. It was replced by the current structure on 1883.

30/1/1926, The Menai Straits road suspension bridge, Anglesey, designed by Thomas Telford, opened to traffic.

15/6/1825, The Duke of York laid the foundation stone of London Bridge.

15/3/1824, Construction work began on John Rennie�s London Bridge.

4/10/1821, Scottish civil engineer John Rennie, bridge designer, died in London.

1819, A Select Committee of the House of Commons considered John Mac Adams�s report on road surfaces. His major innovation was, not to go for a firm base but to seal the top surface of the road. A packhorse on an unimproved road could carry a maximum of 100 kg, but on an improved road it could draw a wheeled load of 500 � 600 kg. However on inland waterways a horse could draw 30 tons on a river or up to 50 tons on a canal.

22/6/1817. London�s Waterloo Bridge, built by John Rennie, was opened. It was originally called Strand Bridge but was renamed on the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. It was replaced in 1945.

1816, Vauxhall Bridge in London opened; it was initially known as The Regent�s Bridge. It was thre first iron bridge over the Thames in central London. Vauxhall Rridge Road was also built in 1816,

1791, The River Trent was first bridged at Gainsborough.

1/1/1781. The first wholly iron bridge in the world was opened at Ironbridge, Shropshire, consisting of a 100 foot span across the Severn. In 1755 an iron bridge had been planned across the Rhone at Lyons but owing to the high cost only one span was made of iron; the others of wood.

1776, Battersea road bridge, London, opened.

1775, The state of British roads was so bad that the Horsehay Iron Company of Shropshire found it more practical to send its products to Chester, just 30 miles away overland, by a circuitous water route down the River Severn, around Wales, and up the River Dee,

1771, A small wooden footbridge opened across the Thames at Battersea. It could only carry light cart and coach traffic.

1769, Blackfriars road bridge, London, opened.

1759, The road bridge at Kew, W London, was built of wood, It was replaced by a stone bridge in 1789; the present bridge dates from 1903.

9/8/1757, Thomas Telford, road, canal, and bridge engineer, was born at Westerkirk, near Langholm, the son of a shepherd.

3/1756, The Gentleman�s Magazine recorded that the Mile End Road, just a mile east of Aldgate, London, was so deep in mud that a light coach, pulled by four horses, could scarcely exceed walking pace.

1753, The Thames Bridge at Hampton Court opened. It was made of wood; the current concrete bridge opened in 1933.

16/11/1750, Westminister Bridge, London, opened. It replaced the old ferry which operated here until this time.

1745, The absence of good roads in the north of Scotland became a major handicap in dealing with the Jacobite Rebellion there.

1729, Putney road bridge was constructed.

15/8/1717, Britain�s first road engineer, John Metcalfe, was born in Knaresborough, Yorkshire.

1663, Britain�s first turnpike gates were put up, at Wadesmill, Hertfordshire.

1555, England passed the Highways Act, requiring each parish to appoint two �Surveyors of Highways�, to keep the roads in repair by compulsory unpaid labour, under the direction of (also unpaid) surveyors. Unsuprisingly, English roads remained in a poor state.

1269, The first toll roads in England.

1219, William de Coventry was Appointed Master of Kingston Bridge (S W London). This is one of the oldest bridges over the Thames in the London area.

1179, The �Old� London Bridge was designed by clergyman Peter de Colechurch. It soon became crowded with houses and was demolished and replaced in 1824.

924, The first record of a bridge over the Trent at Nottingham.



14/12/2004, The world�s tallest bridge, at Millau, France, over the River Tarn, was opened by President Jacques Chirac.

5/9/1980. The world�s longest road tunnel opened in Switzerland. The Simplon Tunnel ran for 10.14 miles, 16.32 kilometres, under the St Gotthard range.

4/8/1967, The Tagus Road Bridge at Lisbon opened

16/7/1965 The seven-mile Mont Blanc road tunnel opened, linking France with Italy. This road tunnel had first been proposed by French engineer Lepiney back in 1870. The tunnel took 6 years to build.

26/3/1923. The world�s first inter-urban motorway opened, in Italy. It was formally opened by the King of Italy on 21/9/1924. It ran from Milan to Varese and the Lombardy Lakes.

10/9/1921. Completion of the first motorway (autobahn) in Germany. The 6 �mile (10 km) route ran from Grunwald, Berlin, to the suburb of Wannsee, was exclusively for motor vehicles, and had controlled limited access. It had been planned in September 1909 and was nearly complete when the outbreak of World War One delayed its completion. Intended to double as a motor racing track, it has a loop at either end where competitors could turn round without stopping. It had 2 carriageways 26 feet wide and a 26 feet wide grassed central reservation, and ten concrete flyovers spanned it. Known as the Avus Autobahn, it is still in use today as route 115.

27/3/1809, Baron Georges Hausmann, who planned the long boulevards of Paris, was born.

1747, The first engineering school, the Ecole des ponts et chaussees (school of bridges and highways) was established in France.

1716, In France, the Corps des Ingenieurs des Ponts et Chausees was set up; they founded a technical school in 1747. The political purpose of this agency was to help unify France.

1507, In Paris the Pont Notre Dame opened; the first stone bridge in France.

1218, In Switzerland the Twarenbrick (Transverse Bridge) over the Schwollen Canyon is the first suspension bridge in Europe.


Asia and Oceania

30/5/1959. Auckland�s Harbour Bridge on New Zealand�s North Island officially opened.

19/3/1932. Sydney Harbour Bridge was officially opened. At 1,650 feet, it was the world�s longest single-span bridge.

18/8/1930. The two halves of Sydney Bridge met in the middle, seven years after building work began. The 503 metre bridge used 38,390 tons of high tensile steel. Completion was scheduled for March 1932.

630, Buddhist scholar Hsuan Tsang provided the first written record of an iron chain link suspension bridge, over the River Indus.

399, Earliest mention of a suspension bridge. Chinese monk Fa Hsien described a suspension footbridge over the River Indus.

600 BCE, Greek historian Herodotus described a bridge over the Euphrates. It was 600 feet long and comprised wooden beams supported on stone pillars.


North America

21/11/1964, The Verrazano Narrows suspension bridge, across the entrance to New York Harbour, opened to traffic.

3/9/1962. The Trans-Canada Highway, 4,800 miles from St John�s Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia, was opened.

13/8/1959, Work began on the Verrazano Narrows cable suspension bridge in New York City.

12/7/1954, US Vice President Richard Nixon announced the construction of a network of Interstate Highways which would enable drivers to cross the USA without encountering a single crossroads or traffic light. They would also be useful as part of a defensive network, and to provide rapid exits from cities in the event of war.

5/11/1951, The New Jersey Turnpike opened between New York and Philadelphia, 190 km.

27/5/1937. The world�s longest suspension bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, was opened. The centre span was 4,200 feet long and with the approaches the bridge was over 8 miles long. The project cost US$ 77.2 million.

12/11/1936, The San Francisco�Oakland Bay Bridge opened.

1933, The clover-leaf junction was developed. It enabled traffic to take any turn at a freeway intersection without crossing other traffic, by means of roads on different levels, and was named after its appearance from the air. Germany also soon adopted this design.

13/11/1927, The Holland Tunnel, linking New York City to New Jersey, was opened.

3/12/1917, The Quebec Bridge over the St Lawrence River opened.87 lives were lost during its construction.

31/12/1909, New York�s Manhattan Bridge opened; it cost US$ 31 million to build.

30/3/1909, New York�s Queensboro Bridge opened; it cost US$ 17 million to build.

24/5/1883. Brooklyn Bridge, New York, was opened. At over a mile long, with a central span of 1595 feet, this was then the longest suspension bridge in the world, and was the first bridge in New York City. It was designed by John Augustus Roebling.

3/1/1870, Work began on the Brooklyn � New York bridge over the East River.


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