50 years of Spaghetti Junction
Highways icon celebrates a significant passage of time and traffic
Motorists and businesses have today paid tribute to the iconic Spaghetti Junction as the road marks 50 years since first opening to traffic.
The junction – known as Gravelly Hill Interchange – carries more than 200,000 vehicles each day. As part of the M6 in the West Midlands, it also links traffic travelling in and out of Birmingham city centre.
It was originally designed for around 70,000 vehicles per day. A largely elevated structure, it is a vital piece of infrastructure for the UK economy. It continues to play a major part in helping freight and logistics companies move goods around the country.
The road is used by almost 26,000 lorries every day. Furthermore, over 31,000 light good vehicles also use the junction and M6 for journeys daily. Then, of course, you need to add all the private cars and motorbikes!
National Highways Customer Services Director, Melanie Clarke, describes it as “a special part of England’s motorway network”.
“It’s something to be proud of in Birmingham because it’s known all around the world – quite rightly – as a feat of engineering. ”
The junction now carries around 200,000 vehicles a day.
Roads minister Baroness Vere, describes it as “both an iconic landmark and indispensable to the UK economy”. She adds that “its longevity over the past 50 years is testament to all those who work to maintain it.”
Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, sums it up as “an iconic Brummie landmark”.
“At the time of its inception, it was actually considered a real engineering feat. So much so that my grandfather used to take me to visit whilst it was being built.”
With he Commonwealth Games being hosted in Birmingham this summer, it continues to play an important role in UK transport.
The sprawling structure is known as the Gravelly Hill Interchange.
Back to the future
As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations, Glenn Howells Architects have restored the original architect’s model which was built in the 1960s.
The project has been a labour of love for the practice’s model makers. With help from National Highways, it’s been painstakingly repaired, upgraded and landscaped.
The plan is to tour various education establishments, helping to encourage youngsters to think about the world of engineering.
The refurbished model of Spaghetti Junction will be used as part of a school’s engagement programme
The model has been updated to see the modern day reality. However, Glenn Howells Architects Head of Modelshop, Pierre Greenway, says they ensured the original is very mush apparent.
“We didn’t want to change the model so much as you wouldn’t see the original any longer. We wanted the viewer to be able to see the original model while updating it to the modern-day.
“The model shows the sheer scale of the structure and it’s wonderful to be able to play a part in restoring this piece of work for the future and encourage youngsters to think about the world of engineering and construction.”
To mark the occasion, Heinz has also created a limited edition set of 500 tins commemorating Spaghetti Junction.
Did you know?
- It is the interchange of the M6, A38, A38 (M) connecting Birmingham and the M6.
- The sprawling design of Spaghetti Junction means there are more than 250 spans, crossbeams and expansion joints, more than 600 columns and more than 3,000 bridge bearings.
- The slip roads are around 2.5 miles long with the M6 itself less than a mile at the structure.
- The Birmingham Evening Mail described the road as a “cross between a plate of spaghetti and an unsuccessful attempt at a Staffordshire knot” coining the phrase ‘Spaghetti Junction’.
- It costs around £7m every year to maintain the structure and keep it in a safe and serviceable condition
- It was designed by engineer Sir Evan Owen Williams.
- Work started to build the road in 1968.
- It took four years to complete and is subject to regular maintenance programmes, many of which take place underneath the road.
- The highest point of the structure is circa 80ft in the air.
- The site covers around 30 acres with teams walking an average of 12-15 miles a day during inspections
- Spaghetti Junction continues to hold international acclaim having formed the backdrop for filming for Ready Player One, with some scenes filmed underneath the structure. The towering concrete columns formed the ideal backdrop to the film, which was in cinemas in 2018.
- For the filming, special templates featuring graffiti were stuck to the concrete structures and various props added into the set, including cars and tyres, with a ‘camp’ constructed for the new film.
- The film crew took considerable effort to protect the structure and ensure nothing was damaged during filming.