Glasgow's Controversial Road Expansion

Will Glasgow's road expansion really prove to be an economic stimulant? Photo by Stephen Thomas

Glasgow, Scotland today revealed a new highway extension, a project that has been met with much controversy. The five-mile extension, referred to as the M74, has been in the works since October 1995, with opposition from environmental groups starting early during the project’s development. With a final cost of US$940 million, the short extension will complete a ring of motorways around the city center.

The ring roads around the city were first proposed by engineer Robert Bruce to ease congestion, but the eastern and southern sides of the road were never completed. With the new extension now open to the public, the Glasgow City Council is highly optimistic of the project’s outcomes. The project’s website credits the new extension with removing considerable volumes of traffic that congests the M8 highway. “Its completion is vital to the future growth and success of Glasgow’s economy and the whole country,” the Council was quoted saying in Building Design magazine.

The government hopes that the road will increase national competitiveness by providing access to Glasgow’s airports and key strategic commercial and industrial facilities. The government is also aiming to develop prime sites in high unemployment areas with the new access points of the extended road, in addition to relieve traffic congestion and reduce road accidents.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the extension that cuts through the south side of the city. Friends of the Earth, an environmental organization, called the road extension “probably the worst environmental decision ever taken by the Scottish executive.” The construction of the project was temporarily halted in March 2009 due to fears that piling work had caused cracks in subway tunnels. In addition to such dangers, environmental groups have generally opposed the project partly on the basis of air pollution and congestion.

“The building of more and bigger roads in an attempt to tackle traffic congestion just doesn’t work,” says Stan Blackley of the Ecologist. “This has been shown time and time again, yet still the Scottish Government and Parliament seem fixated with building more and more roads.”

The worst of it all is the disproportionate impact the new road will have on those who rely on the road the least. “It is a cruel irony that the motorway’s greatest aesthetic and acoustic impact will be on the neighbourhoods of Glasgow that use cars the least: at the 2001 census, nearly 60% of households in Govanhill had no access to a car,” reports Building Design.

Jude Barber, a former member of the Glasgow Letter on Architecture and current director of Glasgow-based Collective Architecture, reflects that “[the extension road] flies in the face of all the policy made lately about the use of public transport, walking, cycling, or taking the train.” She adds, “It just feels like 1970s planning decisions being implemented in 2011.”

Click here to ride along with BBC Scotland in a test-drive on the new road.



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