Introduction It is generally accepted that the industrial revolution began in the North West of England where the importance of good communications had long been recognised, as exemplified by its extensive railway network.
With the rapid growth in the volume of road transport in the early part of the 20th century, it is significant that the development of the motorway network in the UK began in the Region, with the opening of the Preston By-pass section of the M6 in December 1958.
Investigations into a route for a North-South motorway had been carried out in the mid-1930s by the Councils of the four Counties in the Region. Further halted by the onset of the War but, in 1946, the Minister of Transport announced a 10-year programme of construction, which included this route. Of importance was the publication, in 1949, of the Lancashire County Council's Road Plan. Proposals were included for two categories of motorway, the first to be essentially for through traffic movement, and the second, for inter-urban links.
The Region is extremely varied in character, with both major conurbations, and rural areas, parts of which rise to a considerable height above sea level. Major rivers and the Manchester Ship Canal form substantial obstacles for road crossings. The complex geology, coupled with the wet climate, presented many engineering problems.
Due to financial restrictions, and in order to provide relief for some of the sensitive urban areas, the early stages of the construction of the North-South motorway consisted of a series of by-passes of towns, such as Preston, Lancaster, Penrith and Carlisle. Through Cheshire, the motorway was extended south to the Staffordshire boundary and, in Westmorland, it by-passed the notorious section of A6 crossing Shap Fell. In due course, the bypasses were connected and the motorway was completed in July 1971.
The Stretford-Eccles By-pass which was opened to traffic in 1960 was the first local authority motorway in the UK. It formed the first section of an Outer Ring Road of Manchester which subsequently was numbered M60. Other sections followed but it was not until October 2000 that it was completed. The Manchester-Preston motorway M61, and the M66, Bury Easterly By-pass, provided new routes to the north.
East/West communications were improved by the M56 from the Manchester conurbation across North Cheshire; the M62 crossing the Pennines from Yorkshire at an altitude of over 1200 feet and the M58 from the M6 near Wigan, both connecting with an Outer Ring Road of Liverpool, M57; the M65 from North East Lancashire to the M6/M61; and the M55 between the M6 and Blackpool.
Other inter-urban links were provided by the Rochdale/Oldham motorway A627(M); and the M53 from Merseyside to Chester.
Several "urban" motorways were constructed, such as the Mancunian Way, A57(M); the Eccles-Salford motorway, M602; and the Denton/Hyde motorway, M67.
The North West of England has a greater concentration of motorways than any other Region. Within the network of nearly 400 miles of motorway, there are 17 numbered routes varying in length from 1 mile to over 150 miles.