A38(M) (Aston Expressway)

by Chris Bertram

OK, so there isn't very much of this road (it's about 2 miles from end to end), but it's a remarkable example of an ``Urban Motorway''. It was constructed and opened in the early 1970s, along with the section of the M6 to which it is joined, and is a mixture of elevated section and cuttings. Its main distinction is that most of it is single carriageway, but this is a slightly misleading description, as there are actually 7(!) lanes, of which 6 are in use at any time. A ``tidal flow'' system operates, controlled by overhead signal gantries. During off-peak hours, 3 lanes run each way (one lane is always closed as a ``buffer'' lane). However, at morning peak times, 4 lanes are open in towards Birmingham city centre, and 2 outwards. At evening peak, the reverse applies. (Motorcyclists should note that they are barred from the centre lane of the 7 at all times.) It is a remarkable fact that accidents are almost unknown on this road, a tribute to the common sense of the motorists who use it (even though the 50mph speed limit is largely ignored).

Strictly speaking, as the A38 is deemed to run from south-west to north-east, our review should also follow this direction. The southern end of the motorway flows directly on from the Birmingham Inner Ring Road through an underpass at Dartmouth Circus (a junction with the A4540 Middle Ring Road). At this point it is 2 lanes each way with a central reservation, but the slip roads from the roundabout above become new lanes, the central divide ceases and you are onto the Expressway proper. Watch the signals above to see which lanes you are allowed into. One mile further on through a concrete-walled cutting is a junction with an unclassified road, but northbound traffic cannot exit, and there is no southbound access. This serves Aston, Lozells and Nechells. From here the motorway is elevated, and you can see Villa Park (Aston Villa FC) and IMI on your left (right if travelling southbound). Signs above warn of the approaching monumental edifice that is Spaghetti Junction (formally known as Gravelly Hill interchange). This looks monstrous, especially from an aerial photograph, but is well-signed and you really can't go wrong. Here you can choose between the M6 (north or south), the A38 for Lichfield, or the A5127 for Erdington and Sutton Coldfield. If you choose the last of these, the motorway carries on for a short distance, but the central divide reappears, you are down to 2 lanes each way, and the motorway ends by running onto the single-carriageway A-road.

N.B. To stay on the A38, you must take a slip-road which flies over and then drops down to the dual-carriageway. The A38 originally ran through Sutton Coldfield, but renumbering took place after the Sutton by-pass was built, so there is now a dog-leg in the route.

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