40 years of Spaghetti Junction - knot your average junction

Posted on Monday 4th February 2013

Dr Nicole Metje participated in the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the opening of Spaghetti Junction as part of her work on the ICE Municipal Panel in December 2012.

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 1965 by journalist Roy Smith, who said the blueprints looked like “a cross between a plate of spaghetti and an unsuccessful attempt at a Staffordshire knot.” That name has stuck and passed into common usage. 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. 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.

Construction started in 1968 and took four years to complete. Spaghetti Junction has 559 concrete columns, some reaching 80 feet high. The first motorists used Spaghetti Junction on the 24 May 1972. It cost £10m at the time of its construction and involved 13,000 tonnes of steel reinforcement and 134,000 m3 (175,000 cubic yards) of concrete. Routine repairs to the reinforced concrete structures have been ongoing since the late 1980s. Regular maintenance includes the replacement of expansion joints, painting of steelwork, the clearing drainage channels and gutters, clearance of vegetation and removal of graffiti. It is designed to last 120 years.

Spaghetti Junction appears in the Guinness Book of World Records, as “the most complex interchange on the British road system”. 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. In its 40 year history, it has carried nearly two billion vehicles.