Forty facts for forty years of the Spaghetti Junction

The iconic Spaghetti Junction, which celebrates 40 years today
The iconic Spaghetti Junction, which celebrates 40 years today Photo: ITV Central
  1. On 24 May 2012, Spaghetti Junction at Junction 6 of the M6 will be 40 years old.

  2. Its official name is ‘Gravelly Hill Interchange’, but due to the number of intersecting traffic lanes, the structure was referred to as 'Spaghetti Junction' in the 1970s by Roy Smith, a journalist from the Birmingham Evening Mail (now called the Birmingham Mail). That name has stuck and passed into the language.

  3. Spaghetti Junction is the centrepiece of the Midland Links project, which was designed to join up the M1, M5 and M6 motorways, as well as the A38(M) Aston Expressway to bring traffic into the heart of Birmingham.

  4. The designers of Midland Links had to build a six-lane carriageway and link roads through several built-up areas, but with the minimum demolition and disruption. To achieve this, the M6 and Spaghetti Junction follow the line of the local canal and river network on elevated sections.

  5. In an interesting meeting of old and new methods of transport, the pillars carrying Spaghetti Junction over the canal network had to be carefully placed to allow a horse-drawn narrow boat to pass underneath without fouling its towrope.

  6. Construction started in 1968 and took four years to complete.

  7. Spaghetti Junction has 559 concrete columns, some reaching to 80 feet high.

  8. The first motorists used Spaghetti Junction on the 24 May 1972 at approximately 16.30.

  9. The Junction was opened by then Secretary of State for the Environment, the Rt Honourable Peter Walker MBE MP.

  10. To celebrate the opening of a non-stop link between the North West and the South East, the Lord Mayor of Lancaster Cllr Mrs Doris Henderson, presented a red rose to Peter Walker to wear for the opening ceremony.

  11. In return, the Lord Mayor of London, Lord Mais, sent a bouquet of 243 roses to Cllr Henderson; one for each mile between Mansion House in London and Lancaster Town Hall.

  12. Gravelly Hill Interchange cost £10 million at the time of its construction.13. Construction of Spaghetti Junction involved 13,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement.

  13. Construction of Spaghetti Junction involved 134,000 m3 (175,000 cubic yards) of concrete.

  14. The Junction covers 30 acres (121,406 m2).

  15. The Junction serves 18 routes.

  16. It includes 2.5 miles of slip roads, but only 0.62 miles of the M6 itself.

  17. Spaghetti Junction is split across 5 different levels.

  18. The junction is designed to last 120 years.

  19. Routine repairs to the reinforced concrete structures have been ongoing since the late 1980’s.

  20. Regular maintenance includes the replacement of expansion joints, painting of steelwork, the clearing drainage channels and gutters, clearance of vegetation and removal of graffiti.

  21. Concrete repairs are carried out in small sections, so the overall strength of the supporting beams is never compromised.23. During concrete repairs, small sections of old concrete are cut out using water. That’s right. Specially trained operatives use a lance to carefully guide a jet of water, pressurised at 16,000 psi, which cuts through concrete with surgical ease. Using water rather than physical tools removes the risk of damage to other sections of viaduct through vibration.

  22. As work is carried out beneath the main carriageway, drivers would never be aware that work is being carried out beneath them.

  23. In 1998 Birmingham Cathedral had a new set of vestments designed which included Spaghetti Junction as seen from the air.

  24. ‘Spaghetti Junction’ has its own entry in the Oxford English Dictionary but you will never find that name on a road map; it is also referred to as Gravelly Hill Interchange on ordnance survey road maps.

  25. Birmingham historian Vivian Bird, writing in 1974, referred to Spaghetti Junction as an act of ‘plandalism’, calling it the Gravelly Hill earthquake and a wall that imprisoned the people of Birmingham.

  26. Spaghetti Junction appears in the Guinness Book of World Records, as “the most complex interchange on the British road system”.

  27. Diamond' road markings were first piloted on the M6 at Spaghetti Junction in 1999 to improve safety by warning against last minute lane changing or 'swooping'.

  28. The Highways Agency is preparing for the installation of a system known as ‘Managed Motorways’ through Spaghetti Junction, which will allow hard shoulder running and variable speed limits to keep traffic flowing.

  29. On average, Highways Agency Traffic officers attend approximately 20 incidents at Gravelly Hill Interchange per week. This can range from vehicle breakdowns right through to issues of a more serious nature, which are rare.

  30. Spaghetti Junction has 46 signals, 3 electronic message signs and 25 emergency roadside telephones.

  31. It also has its own weather station to monitor conditions.

  32. Spaghetti Junction is one of the biggest motorway interchanges in Europe, and one of the most recognisable.

  33. If you wanted to drive along every road at Junction itself, adhering to the Highway Code, you would have to travel approximately 73 miles.

  34. Construction of the Junction meant having to divert the River Tame and the reduction in size of a lake nearby. As the lake is registered as a reservoir under the Reservoirs Act, the construction of the bund between the river channel and the lake had to be supervised by an engineer on the register of Dam Engineers.

  35. Highways Agency spends approximately £7million a year to maintain Spaghetti Junction in a safe and serviceable condition.

  36. It has embedded itself so deeply in local culture that even the Birmingham City University Student Union has named their official magazine after it.

  37. During the first year of opening, the average flow of vehicles was 40,000 per day. Today, the average daily flow is over 210,000 vehicles.

  38. In its 40 year history, it has carried nearly 2 billion vehicles.