M5 (Birmingham to Exeter)

By Ian Smith

The M5 from Birmingham to Exeter was completed in 1977. It starts at junction 8 of the M6 where sweeping eastern and western arms join to make the three lane M5. Initally climbing to junction 1 (West Bromwich) it then becomes an elevated urban Motorway for the next 3 miles to junction 2 (Sandwell/Dudley). This elevated section was created to avoid large scale demolition of a long established industrial landscape: rather ironic since in the 30 years since the motorway has been opened a significant amount of manufacturing industry in the area has been demolished anyway. The urban section has also been subject to frequent repairs throughout its life and produces a disconcerting ``clickety - click'' sensation (similar to riding on an old railway track) when driving on it.

After junction 3 (Quinton) the motorway leaves the Birmingham conurbation and the scenery steadily becomes more rural. Junction 4 (Lydiate Ash) to junction 8 (Strensham) is the oldest section, opening in the early 1960s. Junction 3 to junction 8 was originally built as two lanes to save money. This decision was criticised from the outset and was quickly proved to be disastrous as the section become overcrowded within a short time. In spite of this widening to three lanes was not completed until the late 1980s, using a parallel widening scheme for junctions 4 to 8. An earlier ``add a lane'' project between junctions 3 and 4 has resulted in an intermittent hard shoulder in this section.

At junction 4A the M42 branches eastwards, eventually offering routes to London (via M40) and the north east (via A42, M1). Junction 4A to 5 is one of the busiest sections of the M5, partly because a significant amount of traffic from the west of England wishing to use the M40 London route joins at junction 5 (Droitwich) and makes a detour north to junction 4A in order to join the M42. After junction 5 the motorway becomes a little quieter.

From Worcester through to Bristol the M5 runs parallel to the River Severn. It also has a close relationship with the A38 from junction 4 onwards and should surely have logically been numbered M38 since it is one of the few major motorways which does not follow a similar route to its correspondently numbered A road.

At junction 15 the M5/M4 intersection is busy but less so since the building of the second Severn crossing. The link road to this (M49) joins the M5 at junction 18 (Avonmouth).

Plans to widen the motorway to 4 lanes between junctions 17 and 21 were removed from the road buiding programme. However the Avonmouth bridge section between junctions 18 and 19 has been widened. This resulted in several years of delays while the bridge was also strengthened.

The section between junction 19 (Gordano) and junction 20 (Clivedon) is probably the most spectacular section of the M5. The carriageways are terraced into the side of a rock face, the southbound being at the higher level.

The M5 continues to wind its way through Somerset and north Devon (wind being the operative word since there seems to be an awful lot of bends on this section). Scenery is rural and not particularly spectacular. At junction 30 (Exeter) traffic from the east (A30)joins the motorway which can cause congestion, particularly during the holiday season.

The M5 ends at junction 31 south of Exeter flowing directly into the A38 (what else!). This road continues for a short distance as dual 3 lanes before brabnching into twin dual carriageway routes for Torbay and Plymouth respectively. Most through traffic for Cornwall branches onto the A30 at junction 31.

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