Glasgow Inner Ring Road
Kingston Bridge & Approaches
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The Kingston Bridge is one of Glasgow’s most iconic structures. A stunning example of post war architecture and planning, the slender concrete arch remains a key part of Scotland’s transport infrastructure and a crucial piece of the M8 motorway.
Completed on 26th June 1970, the construction of the bridge and its approach roads remains one of the most ambitious urban motorway projects undertaken in the UK. Alleviating traffic congestion on the existing city centre bridges, its completion led to significant reductions in journey times and accident rates.
New bridges across the Clyde were first proposed in 1945 as part of plans for the Glasgow Inner Ring Road. Initial progress was slow and it was 1961 before the urban motorway ring around the city centre was approved. Only the north and west flanks of the ring road were constructed, today these carry the M8 through the city.
Celebrating 50 Years (1970-2020)
HRH The Queen Mother, accompanied by Councillor William Hunter (left) and Lord Provost Donald Liddle (behind), prepares to cut the ribbon at the bridge opening ceremony on 26th June 1970.
The planned celebrations to mark the bridge's first fifty years have been curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
To mark the occasion Glasgow Motorway Archive has produced a special two-part podcast and, with Transport Scotland's help and support, a digital booklet featuring new and unseen images from the archive.
Image courtesy of Glasgow City Archives (Ref TD1575/2/62)
Key Facts: Kingston Bridge & Approaches
Inner Ring Road
WA Fairhurst & Partners and Wm. Holford & Associates
Duncan Logan Ltd.
Marples Ridgeway Ltd.
The Kingston Bridge is arguably the most important piece of the M8 motorway. Used by over 155,000 vehicles every day, it is one of the busiest urban bridges in Europe. This iconic structure, and the urban motorway scheme of which it is a part, has become indelibly associated with Glasgow’s post-war redevelopment. Construction of the bridge and its extensive complex of approach roads in the late 1960s dramatically changed the character of Anderston and Tradeston.
The desire for a new crossing of the Clyde grew from the recommendations of City Engineer Robert Bruce’s “First Planning Report” published in 1945. As part of his proposals for an Inner Ring Road, a new quay level bridge was proposed. The idea was taken forward in the early 1960s when Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners was appointed to develop proposals for a motorway ring encircling the city centre.
Work on the project, which would link the sprawling Anderston and Shields Road Comprehensive Development Areas (CDA), began in 1961 when Glasgow Corporation appointed W.A. Fairhurst & Partners to produce a detailed design. Holford & Associates were appointed as Consulting Architect, continuing in the role they had held since the design of the Townhead Interchange.
The original plan called for the bridge to built as a twin level structure. The lower deck, to be constructed at quay level, would have been for the use of local traffic. The high level deck would be for strategic motorway traffic.
These illustrations from 1961 provide a glimpse of the early ideas being considered by the design team.
The name of the original artist is unknown.
Various options were considered for what was initially known as the Carnoustie Street Bridge. The Corporation was particularly interested in a two-level structure that kept motorway and local traffic separate but this idea was blocked by the Clyde Navigation Trust. The Trust was reluctantly prepared to consider closing docks upstream of the proposed bridge, but they refused to permit any structure that would prevent dredging the topmost reaches of the tidal river, as this was essential to maintain navigable water downstream.
In the mid-1960s designs for a soaring 268.5m long bridge carrying ten lanes of 50mph motorway 18.5m above the river were revealed to the public. The Kingston Bridge, as it was now named, would allow for traffic growth till 1990 by which time 120,000 vehicles were expected to use the crossing every day. An extensive complex of approach roads was also outlined.
The designers noted that their proposal was actually for two parallel independent 20.8m wide ‘superstructures’ that would each carry one carriageway. In effect, the bridge is formed from two sets of three hollow prestressed in situ concrete ‘boxes’ sitting side by side and held together by substantial concrete diaphragms. The ‘boxes’ rest on two reinforced concrete piers.
The slip roads and approach viaducts would be carried on more than 100 slender supports with an “interesting and elegant” parabolic cross-section that quickly earned them the affectionate nickname Willie Fairhurst’s Troosers, a reference to the bridge’s designer.
Two interchanges were included in the proposals. At the north end of the project, connections were to be provided to the city centre via ramps at Bothwell Street, Waterloo Street, North Street and Newton Street. Ramps at Stobcross Street would provide connections to the proposed Clydeside Expressway. North facing slips were also to be provided at Argyle Street. At the south end of the project, allowances were made for the future connection of the bridge to the South Flank of the Inner Ring Road and the M8 Renfrew Motorway.
A network of footbridges and pedestrian walkways were proposed to maintain existing links and to improve access to the city centre. One such bridge across the north approach intended to connect sections of the Anderston CDA, was, like the podium at Charing Cross, left unfinished against the engineer’s advice. The Corporation expected it to be quickly completed as part of their proposals for the Anderston Centre. Those plans were subsequently scaled back leaving the bridge, by now dubbed “the bridge to nowhere”, unfinished for more than 40 years. Funding from the charity Sustrans allowed it to be completed in 2013 and it now forms part of the national cycle network.
Pedestrian movements were a key consideration of the design team and an extensive network was proposed.
Not all were completed on schedule! Anderston Footbridge remained unfinished until 2013, over 40 years after its intended completion.
© Glasgow Motorway Archive
The required Parliamentary Orders for land acquisition and construction were approved in June 1966 and tenders for construction were invited in autumn that year. Construction began with work the north approach viaduct. A ceremony attended by the Lord Provost marked the start of work on 15th May 1967. Just a few months later, the new structures could be seen rising from the ground on the mile-long site stretching from Scotland Street to St. Vincent Street.
The contractor, a joint venture of Duncan Logan Ltd. and Marples Ridgeway Ltd., constructed the main span using the ‘balanced cantilever method’. The box girders were cast in 3.5m sections working outwards from both support piers till the two halves met above the river in late 1969. This approach meant that the river and busy surface streets could remain open to traffic throughout the project.
The approach viaducts were constructed simultaneously and, by casting their supports in order from tallest to shortest, the contractor was able re-use the same set of shutters to save money and accelerate progress.
The "balanced cantilever" method of construction is clear to see in this night time shot of the north end of the bridge from 1969.
© Newsquest (Herald & Times).
The approach viaducts were constructed simultaneously and required over 100 support columns.
© The Scotsman Publications Ltd.
The construction site stretched for almost one mile from St. Vincent Street to Scotland Street. It is shown well in this aerial photo looking south across the site in 1969. © Newsquest (Herald & Times).
Other innovations included mounting internally illuminated signage on distinctive overhead gantries that would later be connected to the city’s traffic control system. These remain in use today. In common with other elevated sections of the inner ring road, an electric under road heating system was installed to prevent the build-up of snow and ice, though this technology did not prove entirely successful in service.
The Kingston Bridge was completed on schedule and opened by HRH The Queen Mother on Friday 26th June 1970. The project cost over £11 million (£180 million at today’s prices) including land, construction and service diversions. It was the most expensive of all the Inner Ring Road construction contracts: 75% of the cost was provided by the Scottish Development Department. Glasgow Corporation viewed the project as a significant achievement and it garnered interest from around the world.
The Kingston Bridge was the first section of the Inner Ring Road to be provided with overhead sign gantries. These were connected to the city's remotely controlled traffic system a few years later.
The internally illuminated sign gantries remain in use today, a distinctive feature of the Glasgow motorway system.
© Glasgow Motorway Archive
A significant reduction of traffic on the existing city centre bridges was recorded in the months after its completion.
As expected, the number of vehicles using the bridge increased steadily from around 10,000 vehicles per day in 1970 to almost 80,000 by 1980 as a result of the bridge being linked to additional sections of the motorway system. Connection to the Charing Cross section of the Inner Ring Road was made in February 1972, creating a bypass of the city centre for the first time. The Renfrew Motorway, completed in September 1976, extended the M8 to Hillington. Further increases were recorded when the motorway in the east of the city was completed in April 1980.
The bridge quickly became a popular way of crossing the River Clyde. By 1980 around 80,000 vehicles per day were crossing it. This was in line with initial expectations.
This photo shows the busy eastbound carriageway in the mid-1970s.
© Glasgow Motorway Archive
Congestion began to appear on the completed north and west flanks of the Inner Ring Road in the summer of 1980. This was largely because the highway plans of 1965 envisaged that the south and east flanks, which included a second motorway bridge near Glasgow Green, would have carried the bulk of the east-west traffic around the city centre. The cancellation of these sections left the M8 as the only major route across the city, a situation that persists to this day.
The connections to the south flank were built as part of the Kingston Bridge scheme, though they remain unused and can still be seen at West Street.
There have been a lot of changes along the banks of the River Clyde since the completion of the bridge in 1970.
In this photo from the mid-1970s, the quays have a much more industrial feel. Popular walkways are now present on each side and a leisure complex was opened at Spring Quay in the late 1990s.
© Glasgow Motorway Archive
In the late 1980s, a number of structural issues became apparent. At the south end of the bridge the main expansion joint was found to be fully open while at the north end it was closed shut, regular surveys observed the mid-span level of the bridge had dipped and that the quay wall at Anderston was cracking and the timber piles bulging. Damage to the concrete at the base of the main north support pier revealed the culprit—the north pier was itself rotating northwards causing the quay wall to fail.
In a series of further problems, pre-cast facing panels around the bridge copes were dislodged and fell on to the roads and footways below and the aluminium barrier and parapet system was breached in several high-profile accidents.
Strathclyde Regional Council, who took ownership of the bridge after local government reorganisation in May 1975, commissioned an investigation. A draft of the report was leaked to press before it was seen by council officials and the following months brought a media storm with sensational headlines about the bridge regularly appearing in the Daily Record, Glasgow Herald and Evening Times.
The cope and parapet system of the central reservation was replaced following the completion of the main strengthening works. © David Miller (2003).
Sign gantries on the bridge were refurbished to bring them up to modern standards from the mid-1990s. © Glasgow Motorway Archive.
In one of the most complex projects ever seen on the Scottish motorway system, the Kingston Bridge was temporarily jacked up before each of its main supports were replaced. In this photo the original north support pier can be seen following its careful removal in 1999.
© Glasgow Motorway Archive
The technical assessments found that elements of the bridge were not behaving as intended and extensive remedial work was required. The council, as roads authority, set up a project team focused entirely on the bridge and its problems, bringing together the brightest minds from the council, academia, consulting engineers and contractors to ensure the issues were fully understood and properly addressed.
Structural monitoring was considered key to understanding the bridge’s behaviour. By 1991, 36 digital movement sensors, 16 reflecting prisms, 128 thermometers and a wind monitor were installed. The sensors provided frequent, detailed data every fifteen seconds. A programme of strengthening and refurbishment followed, starting with jet grouting to stabilise the north quay wall in 1991. A summary of the extensive package of works can be seen below.
The bridge is made up of six hollow concrete box girders positioned in 2x3 arrangement.
Additional post tensioning was installed in the late 1990s as part of works to strengthen the structure.
© Glasgow Motorway Archive
The project team, led by Glasgow City Council on behalf of the Scottish Government after 1996, was disbanded in 2006 following completion of all major contracts. The team was awarded a Saltire Society Civil Engineering Award for its work on main strengthening contract. More recent works have been overseen by Transport Scotland’s Operating Companies which have included Scotland TranServ and Amey.
To date the Scottish Government has invested more than £60 million in the bridge to ensure it can continue admirably performing its key role, keeping cross-city traffic off city centre streets, for decades to come.
Key Facts: Kingston Bridge & Approaches (Strengthening & Refurbishment)
Strathclyde Regional Council orders investigations into bridge problems following indication of structural issues.
Installation of bridge monitoring system. Stabilisation of quay walls. Jet grouting of north quay wall & north pier. Rock armour installed.
Lane 2 closed on each carriageway and kentledge installed. Temporary tie-downs installed. Cope and parapet replacement works commence.
Installation of permanent barrier on eastbound carriageway between lanes 2 and 3. Kentledge removed. Over £8.5 million spent by this stage.
Main bridge strengthening works commence. New piers constructed & movement bearings installed. Additional post-tensioning. Main contractor Balfour Beatty. Works cost £32 million in total.
Concrete half joint bearing replacement scheme (£2.1 million).
Stobcross Off Ramp reconstruction (£4 million). Central reserve cope and parapet replacement (£2.5 million).
Stobcross On Ramp strengthening (£11 million).
Bothwell Street Off Ramp refurbishment (£4.9 million)
South Approaches cope and parapet replacement (£3.25 million)
Newton Street On Ramp cope and parapet replacement (£1.5 million)
North Approaches cope and parapet replacement (£4.5 million*)
* Estimate (June 2020)
To remedy the structural issues the bridge’s bearings and main supports were replaced. This was high profile work, as the bridge could not easily be closed without causing traffic chaos in the city. The contractors proposed a clever method that meant the bridge would only need to be closed over a handful of weekends. Glasgow City Council, working on behalf of the Scottish Government, responded to the huge public interest with a short film to provide an update on progress and to detail what the work involved.
A copy of the film was recently donated to the Glasgow Motorway Archive and we present it here with the kind permission of Transport Scotland.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the Kingston Bridge the Glasgow Motorway Archive produced a two-part podcast. Part 1 focuses on planning, design and constriction. Part 2 considers initial operation, the refurbishment and strengthening works and the future.
The Kingston Bridge remains one of Glasgow’s most iconic structures and a crucial piece in the national motorway system. Today, around 155,000 vehicles cross it every day, down slightly from the levels recorded prior to the completion of the M74 in 2011.
The extensive maintenance works of the 1990s and 2000s ensure the bridge will remain operational for many years to come but the on-going debate the environmental consequences of our dependence on the car is certain to result in changes to the way we travel in decades ahead. It will be interesting to see how the bridge and wider motorway system adapts to these changes.
In June 2020 it was announced that Historic Environment Scotland intend to give the bridge listed status. The Glasgow Motorway Archive keenly supports this move. This doesn’t simply acknowledge the unique engineering and architectural features, it also recognises the work of the people that designed and built it, as well as the efforts of those that have maintained it over its first half-century of service.
The Glasgow Motorway Archive will continue to study its history with interest.