M74 Motorway

Glasgow to Gretna

Glasgow Motorway Archive - M74 Motorway Map

The M74 is one the most important routes in Scotland, providing a direct link between Glasgow and the rest of the UK. It carries tens of thousands of vehicles every day. Construction of the first section of M74 began in 1964, with the commencement of works on the Larkhall-Hamilton-Uddingston Bypass. By 1999 the motorway stretched all the way to Gretna. To the north, extensions of the motorway beyond its initial Maryville terminus were incorporated into the Glasgow Highway Plan and the Greater Glasgow Transportation Study. These plans envisaged the M74 as part of a second motorway across the city. Further changes led to the route corridor we have today.

The A74 trunk road had acted as the primary route from central Scotland to England for over a century. From the early 1950s significant works were undertaken to improve the rural sections between Lesmahagow and the Scottish Border, and by 1960 much of the work to provide dual carriageway were complete. The urban sections, which cut through the towns of Larkhall, Hamilton, Bothwell and Uddingston, remained as a single carriageway, and was completely inadequate for the volume and type of traffic using it.


A bypass of these towns had been considered since at least the early 1950s, with the MoT publishing orders several times detailing a new special road through the Clyde Valley. As is often the case in British roads planning there was a delay. County Surveyor Col TU Wilson completed a full review of the county's roads in 1951, expanding on those outlined in the Clyde Valley Plan.


Planning took a considerable step forward in 1960 when Lanarkshire County Council, with support from the Scottish Development Department (SDD), commissioned a full-scale traffic survey centred on the Hamilton area. Its purpose: to identify possible solutions to the worsening congestion problem. It was found that around 20,000 vehicles per day were travelling through Hamilton and this was expected to increase to around 65,000 by 1980. The construction of a "Special Road" was therefore recommended on a line through the Clyde Valley to the north of all four towns. This route would be made up of two and three lane carriageways built to rural motorway standards and tie in with the dual carriageway sections of A74 at Calderpark in the north and Draffan in the south. Shortly after the traffic survey was completed, engineering consultant Babtie Shaw and Morton was appointed as project designer.

M74 Motorway Construction Summary



Opening Date

Hamilton Bypass Stage 1

6 - 9

2nd December 1966

Hamilton Bypass Stage 2A

5 - 6

14th May 1968

Hamilton Bypass Stage 2B

4 - 5

2nd August 1968

Draffan to Poniel

9 - 11

27th October 1986

Poneil to Millbank

11 - 12

November 1987

Millbank to Nether Abington

12 - 13

29th November 1991

Elvanfoot to Paddy's Rickle

14 - 15

21st August 1992

Kirkpatrick Fleming to Gretna

21 - 22

19th December 1992

Nether Abington to Elvanfoot

13 - 14

3rd December 1993

Maryville to Fullarton Road

2a - 3a

May 1994

Dinwoodie Green to Muirhouse

16 - 17

22nd September 1994

Muirhouse to Water of Milk

17 - 18

22nd September 1994

Water of Milk to Ecclefechan

18 - 19

22nd September 1994



22nd September 1994

St. Ann's to Dinwoodie Green

15 - 16

11th December 1994

Ecclefechan to Eaglesfield

19 - 20

24th November 1995

Eaglesfield to Kirkpatrick Fleming

20 - 21

24th November 1995

Paddy's Rickle to Harthope

14 - 15

30th April 1999

Harthope to Middlegill

14 - 15

30th April 1999

Middlegill to Beattock

14 - 15

30th April 1999

Beattock to St. Ann's

15 - 16

30th April 1999

M74 Completion

1 - 2a

26th June 2011

Construction began 1963, with Stage 1 (Hamilton to Draffan) opening on December 2nd, 1966. Stage 2A (Hamilton to Raith) opened in May 1968, followed by 2B (Raith to Maryville) in August 1968.  The Scottish Office provided a 75% grant towards the project.


A continuation of the route northwards was included within a Highway Plan for Glasgow. It was intended that this section, named the Hamilton Motorway, would connect with the East Flank of the Glasgow Inner Ring Road. Protests, and years of political wrangling, resulted in the plans being revised and a route corridor parallel to the West Coast Railway Line being adopted as an alternative. The first northern extension was completed in early 1995, with the second, more complex M74 Completion scheme following in 2011.


The success of the Hamilton Bypass almost immediately resulted in calls for further upgrades of the A74 to motorway. By the early 1970s, plans were developed to extend the motorway southwards from Draffan to Millbank, bypassing Lesmahagow (its second bypass in only 40 years). Two construction contracts were eventually let, Draffan to Douglas, completed in October 1986 and Douglas to Millbank, opening in November 1987. These were constructed as dual two-lane motorway.


In 1987, the Scottish Office confirmed that all remaining sections of A74 would be upgraded to motorway. Three design contracts were let, to Babtie, Shaw & Morton, Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and W.A. Fairhurst. The scheme was “fast tracked” with route selection, contract preparation and detailed design being undertaken simultaneously. The first contract taken forward in this way, from Millbank to Nether Abington, opened only four years later in November 1991. The fast pace continued, and by 1999 the entire route from Millbank to the Scottish Border had been upgraded to dual three-lane motorway. Many schemes won civil engineering awards for their innovation and design.

This article was first published in December 2020.

Related Content

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • YouTube
  • iTunes
  • Spotify
© Glasgow Motorway Archive (2020)

Glasgow Motorway Archive was inspired by John M. Cullen (1928-2018) and was made real with the generous donation of his private archive of engineering and technical records. Thank you John, we think of you often. 

All works © Glasgow Motorway Archive (2010-2021) except where stated. Reproduction and distribution of material without written permission is prohibited.