M5 motorway explained

This article is about the M5 motorway in England. See M5 for other roads numbered "M5".

The M5 is a motorway in England. It runs from the M6 at Great Barr to Exeter in Devon. Heading south from the M6, the M5 runs east of West Bromwich and west of Birmingham through Sandwell Valley. The road continues past Bromsgrove, Droitwich Spa, Worcester, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, Gloucester, Bristol, Weston-super-Mare, Highbridge, Bridgwater and Taunton on its way to Exeter, ending at Junction 31. It is the primary gateway to south-west England and can get very busy in summer months, especially after 3pm on a Friday afternoon until 8pm between Junctions 15 and 24.

Construction phases

Initial construction

The first 26miles of the M5 motorway to be built was constructed as a dual twin-carriageway motorway (two lanes in each direction), with Worcester County Council acting as engineer.[1] This section, from Junction 4 (Lydiate Ash) in the north to a trumpet junction with the M50 in the south, opened in 1963.[1] [2] The southern end was called a trumpet junction because of its shape: a 270 degree curved bend. There were no other exits from this trumpet junction though room was left for an extension to the south.

Another 2miles dual twin-carriageway section was built at Filton, near Bristol, with Gloucester County Council acting as engineer. It was intended to replace the pre-war Filton bypass, and it opened in 1962.[1] [2] This is now the section between junctions 16 and 17.[3] It was widened to a dual triple-carriageway motorway in 1969.[2]

The motorway was extended in sections, from 1967 to 1970, northwards from Junction 4; and Frankley services was built. Much of the northern section beyond Junction 3, from about Quinton to its junction with the M6 motorway, was elevated motorway built on concrete pillars. The northern extension was a dual triple-carriageway motorway (three lanes in each direction).[2] The M5 was also extended southwards, in sections, from 1967 to 1977, through Somerset, to Exeter, as a dual triple-carriageway motorway.[2] A new services area was also built nearby, Strensham services.

The short section between junctions 27 and 29 was built in 1967/69, by Devon County Council, as the A38 Cullompton Bypass, with the intention that it should become part of the M5.[1] The termini for this section have since been removed, although part of the southern terminal roundabout is now used as an emergency access.[4] It was improved to motorway standards, and was incorporated into the M5 in 1975.[1]

M42 link

In the late 1980s a new junction 4a was built as part of the M42 motorway construction project. The route of the M42 was decided as early as 1972 but, due to planning delays, approval at the Bromsgrove end was not obtained until 1986.[5]

Widening the four-lane section

The first-built section of M5, from junctions 3 to 8, was widened to provide six lanes (three lanes in each direction) in the early 1990s. During this work the Northbound Strensham Services was completely rebuilt further away from the new junction. Junctions 7 and 8 were also remodelled into a roundabout junction.[6]

Addition of crawler lanes

The Avonmouth Bridge was converted to eight lanes (four lanes in each direction) in the early 2000s. Later, in 2005 - 2006, parts of the M5 between Junctions 17 and 20 were widened to 7 lanes (four lanes climbing the hills and three lanes descending the hills); information boards were added and parts of the central reservation was converted to a concrete step barrier. During this stage of construction the M5 became Britain's longest contraflow system,[7] [8] spanning 9miles between junctions 19 and 20. The M5 contraflow was said to be the most complicated ever built in the UK as the motorway is on a split level going around the steep hills of Gordano Valley; meaning four lanes plus an additional emergency vehicle lane were squeezed into that section.[9] Most of the contraflow had speed limits of 40mph and required six speed cameras to enforce the speed limit through the narrow lanes.[10]

Junction 12

Junction 12 was originally a northbound exit only junction. In 2002 a southbound exit was added. The Highways Agency did not anticipate the traffic flows through the junction and the resultant queues can now extend back onto the motorway.[11] This is because of an increase in traffic from Stroud intending to use the M5 northbound. The distance from junctions 12 and 13 is similar and traffic congestion is heavy on the A419 towards junction 13 whereas it is usually lighter on the B4008 towards junction 12. As traffic leaving the M5 northbound towards Gloucester needs to give way to this traffic coming from the B4008, the queue on the motorway can extend beyond the first sign for the junction.


See main article: Almondsbury Interchange and Avonmouth Bridge.

Notable features of the M5 include the four level Almondsbury Interchange, between the M5 and the M4 near Bristol. Another is the Avonmouth Bridge that is often a bottleneck in heavy traffic. Beyond that are the split-level carriageways, as the motorway climbs the sides of the hills above the Gordano valley, between Portishead and Clevedon. Junction 1 surrounds a surviving gatehouse from the former Sandwell Hall.

The M5 follows the route of the A38 road quite closely. The two deviate slightly around Bristol and the area south of Bristol (junctions 16 to 22). The A38 goes straight through the centre of Bristol and passes by Bristol International Airport; whereas the M5 skirts around both of them, with access to the airport from junctions 18, 19 or 22. The A38 continues south from where the M5 finishes in Devon.

Between Junction 21, Weston-super-Mare and Junction 22, Burnham-on-Sea, the M5 passes by Brent Knoll and has a long gradual curve that deviates from the straight line of the motorway. It is commonly believed that this is because it is to bypass the hill and village, but it is in fact down to an error in the compulsory land purchases made at the time which left the route of the motorway having to arch around this area.


M5 Motorway
Northbound exitsJunctionSouthbound exits
The NORTH WEST, Wolverhampton, Birmingham (North & East), Walsall M6M6, J8
Start of motorway
West Bromwich, Birmingham (North West) A41J1West Bromwich, Birmingham (North West) A41
Dudley, Wolverhampton, Birmingham (West) A4123J2Dudley, Wolverhampton, Birmingham (West) A4123
Birmingham (South West & Central) A456J3Kidderminster A456
colspan=3Frankley Services
Birmingham (South) A38
Stourbridge A491
J4Bromsgrove A38
Stourbridge A491
NEC, Birmingham Airport, Redditch M42 London (M40, M1)J4a
Birmingham (South & East), Redditch M42 London (M40)
Droitwich Spa, Bromsgrove A38J5Droitwich Spa A38
Worcester (North), Kidderminster A449J6Worcester (North) A449
Evesham A4538
Worcester (South) A44J7Worcester (South) A44
colspan=3Strensham services
Tewkesbury A438 Evesham A46J9Tewkesbury A438 Evesham A46
No accessJ10Cheltenham A4019
Cheltenham, Gloucester (North), Gloucestershire Airport A40J11Cheltenham, Gloucester (North), Gloucestershire Airport A40
Gloucester (East) A417J11aGloucester (East) A417
Gloucester (South) (A38)J12Gloucester (South) (A38)
Stroud A419J13Stroud A419
colspan=3Michaelwood services
Dursley, Charfield, Falfield, Wotton-under-Edge B4509J14Thornbury, Charfield, Falfield, Wotton-under-Edge B4509
London, Bristol (M32), South Wales, Chepstow (M48) M4J15
Almondsbury Interchange
London, Bristol (M32), South Wales, Chepstow (M48) M4
Thornbury, Filton A38J16Thornbury, Filton A38
Bristol (West) A4018
Severn Beach B4055
J17Bristol (West) A4018
Severn Beach B4055
South Wales, Cardiff, Newport M49J18a No access
Avonmouth, Avonmouth Docks A4J18Avonmouth, Avonmouth Docks A4
colspan=3Avonmouth Bridge
Portishead, Royal Portbury Dock, Easton in Gordano A369J19
Gordano Services
Portishead, Royal Portbury Dock, Easton in Gordano A369
Nailsea, Clevedon B3133J20Nailsea, Clevedon B3133
Weston-super-Mare, Bristol (South) A370J21Weston-super-Mare A370
colspan=3Sedgemoor services
Burnham on Sea, Weston-Super-Mare, Bristol (South), Airport A38J22Burnham on Sea, Highbridge A38
Highbridge A38
Glastonbury, Wells A39
J23Bridgwater A38
Glastonbury, Wells A39
Bridgwater, Minehead A38J24
Bridgwater services
Minehead, (A39) A38
Taunton, Yeovil A358J25Taunton, Honiton, Yeovil, Weymouth A358
colspan=3Taunton Deane services
Wellington, Taunton A38J26Wellington A38
Barnstaple, Tiverton A361
Wellington A38
Tiverton Parkway railway station
J27Barnstaple, Tiverton A361
Willand (B3181)
Tiverton Parkway railway station
Cullompton B3181J28
Cullompton services
Cullompton B3181
Honiton A373
Honiton A30
Exeter International Airport A3015
J29Honiton A30
Exeter International Airport A3015
Exeter A379
Sidmouth, Exmouth (A3052) A376
Exeter services
Exeter A379
Sidmouth, Exmouth A376
Start of motorwayrowspan=2J31Bodmin, Okehampton A30
Bodmin, Okehampton A30
Non-motorway traffic
Road becomes A38 from/to Plymouth and Torquay

See also



External links

Notes and References

  1. Charlesworth, George (1984), pp.135-140.
  2. Charlesworth, George (1984), Table 7.3 - pp.100-123.
  3. Ordnance Survey One Inch Map of Great Britain, Series 7 Sheet 156, major roads revised 1963.
  4. http://www.uk-roads.co.uk/gallery/displayimage.php?pid=11548&fullsize=1 SABRE Photo Gallery: Click image to close this window
  5. http://www.iht.org/motorway/m42birmnott.htm The Motorway Archive - M42
  6. http://www.iht.org/motorway/m5widening.htm The Motorway Archive - M5 Widening, junctions 3 to 8
  7. http://news.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30100-13457491,00.html Sky News - UK's Longest Contraflow
  8. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/somerset/4388320.stm BBC News - 'Most complex' contraflow
  9. http://www.epolitix.com/EN/MPWebsites/John+Penrose/810171f6-311a-49a9-a3a1-bd68fbc16839.htm#13 Western Daily Press - West beware! It's Britain's biggest road contraflow
  10. http://www.roadtraffic-technology.com/contractors/photo_enforcement/redspeed/press4.html Road Traffic Technology - RedSpeed International Take On Europe's Largest Contraflow
  11. News: Agency admits error over junction. BBC News. British Broadcasting Corporation. 2005-11-18. 2008-01-01.