M54. The Telford Motorway

Two roads of major historic importance traverse the area within which the M54 was built. These are the A5, Watling Street, which was part of the network of military roads built by the Romans in C.40 AD. The Watling Street connected Rochester in Kent to Wroxeter in Shropshire. The other road which came to prominence in the early nineteenth century was the A454/A41/A5, Birmingham to Holyhead Turnpike much of which was built by Thomas Telford in the early 1800's...

History and Background

Two roads of major historic importance traverse the area within which the M54 was built. These are the A5, Watling Street, which was part of the network of military roads built by the Romans in C.40 AD. The Watling Street connected Rochester in Kent to Wroxeter in Shropshire. The other road which came to prominence in the early nineteenth century was the A454/A41/A5, Birmingham to Holyhead Turnpike much of which was built by Thomas Telford in the early 1800's. Both these roads became trunk roads. Prior to the completion of M54 these roads carried heavy volumes of traffic particularly commercial traffic between England and the seaport of Holyhead for Ireland. The roads were, and largely still are, narrow, tortuous and pass through many rural towns and villages. The initial aim of M54 was to take the majority of long distance and commercial traffic off the two trunk roads.

In the early 1960's Government announced an intention to establish a new town in the area around Dawley in Shropshire with twin objectives to improve employment availability in South Shropshire and to provide accommodation and services for population overspill from the West Midland Conurbation. Two major policy decisions in the mid-sixties affected the Dawley development, vis:

the proposed boundaries of Dawley New Town were extended northwards to encompass the existing towns of Oakengates and Wellington and the enlarged proposals were re-named Telford New Town.
the business and industrial attraction of the New Town would be enhanced by the provision of appropriate direct access to the national motorway network (i.e.M6).
Initial planning of the New Town was based on a target population of 225,000 in 1991 of which 136,000 would be overspill from the West Midlands. In 1967 Freeman Fox, Wilbur Smith Associates (FFWSA) were invited by the Ministry of Transport's, Midland Road Construction Unit (MRCU) to investigate and report on the impact of the New Town proposals on traffic demand between the New Town and Wolverhampton and the best highway solution to meet this demand. In 1968 FFWSA submitted their Traffic Report which predicted a demand of 75,000 p.c.u/day by 1990 and a need for a dual 3-lane motorway. The report identified two corridors for a new motorway and a third option upgrading existing roads.

  1. the A5 Corridor to M6 South of Gailey (J12)
  2. a new Corridor to M6 North of Laney Green (J11)
  3. upgrade existing A5 to full dual carriageway grade separated standards together with improvements to A41 and A464 trunk routes.

Route Location and Engineering Design

Initial route studies followed the standard practice of identifying technically feasible lines within the corridors; carrying out all the appropriate consultations and investigations relating to these lines; establishing capital costs of the alternatives and their economic ranking, using recently introduced procedures for economic evaluations.


The first section of M54 to be built was the Wellington By-pass. This was built between 1973-1975. The Contractor was M. J. Gleeson Ltd and the designer the Staffordshire Sub-Unit of MRCU. There were elements of the design which left much to be desired. The bridges in particular were poor, both from the point of view of constructional detail and aesthetics. The specification used for the sub-base was inappropriate. Build quality was also poor with the carriageway starting to break up after only two years. This was not helped by the decision to go for a choice of flexible or rigid construction in the tender. MRCU H.Q. had made strenuous efforts to have the rigid option dropped due to high incidence of old mine workings along much of the route. Short term economics at Marsham Street and the Treasury once again prevailed. Over the fifteen year period post opening, almost all the original concrete carriageway had had to be replaced. The whole length has now been covered with H.R.A. It also has to be said that relationships between the Contractor and the Resident Engineer during the contract were not good.

The 30km length of the Telford-M6 section M54 excluding Wellington By-Pass, was divided into four contracts with a fifth contract being let for the Forge Interchange with the Telford Town Centre. All sections were designed by Sir Owen Williams and Partners.

The first of the four main contracts to be let was Contract 2, Donington. The Contractor was R M Douglas Construction Ltd. The carriageway was of rigid (concrete) construction laid using a brand new fixed form paver fondly named 'the orange blossom special' because of its bright colour. The two year contract was completed in only 18 months. This was because the first season starting in February 1981 was very dry and all the earthworks and much of the bridgeworks were completed by the autumn. The roadworks followed at a similar pace and the contract completed in Jun 1982. R M Douglas provided an experienced and highly competent team which did much to produce a very satisfactory outcome. The only problem, if indeed it was a problem, of finishing 6 months early was the pressure it put on the other 3 contracts to do likewise. Unfortunately the weather was not so kind over the ensuing 2 years.

The second contract to be let was Contract 1, Shifnal. The Contractor was A Monk & Co. Again, the carriageway was of concrete construction laid using a slip-form paver. A major feature of this contact was the use for the first time in UK of a pulverised fuel ash/ordinary portland cement (pfa/opc) blend being used in concrete. The specification was written by TRRL who also monitored the work on site. It proved to be a very successful experiment and eventually lead to the widespread use of the pfa/opc blend being specified as a standard.

The third contract was Contract 3, Codsall. The Contractor was Alfred McAlpine & Son (Southern) Ltd. Like Contract 1, the Contractor won the contract with a rigid carriageway bid. The concrete again being laid with a slip-form paver. Further pfa/opc blends were used in the concrete mix. This contract traversed the Big Wood in Chillington Park where very extensive environmental and visual screening works were carried out.

The fourth, and largest contract to be let was Contract 4 (Essington). The contractor was Tarmac Civil Engineering Ltd (now Carrilion Construction). The carriageway construction was of flexible (HRA wearing course) construction – this being the cheapest price in this instance. The National Trust property of Moseley Old Hall had to be protected on its north and west sides by a huge earth bund. Much of the material coming from the old colliery waste tops at nearby Hilton Main Colliery. Colliery waste was used extensively elsewhere in the contract. The free-flow interchange with M6 had to be very carefully planned to avoid disruption of flow on M6. It has to be said here that opposition from Staffordshire County Council caused the works to be delayed longer than necessary and for the works to cost considerably more than envisaged. The County Council insisted on temporary roads being provided on both sides of the M6 to enable some local traffic to continue using a side road during the works. In the event this local traffic found alternative routes to avoid the delays. Politics overruled common sense! The completion of this contract obviously dictated the opening of the whole length (it was not possible to open individual sections early due to the junction placements), so pressure was (gently) applied to the Contractor. Despite some small efforts by Neville Simms – later Sir Neville, to have the contract accelerated – (no doubt to make more money for Tarmac (now Carrilion Construction)) the contract was completed (almost) on time.

The final decision to build M54 immediately lead to a rapid increase in the development of Telford New Town. This applied also to the Town Centre which was planned as a major regional shopping centre. Telford Development Corporation (TDC) requested Department of Transport to provide an all-turns interchange between M54 and the Town Centre at Forge. TDC agreed to pay the cost of designing and building the interchange. As a result orders were published, a public inquiry held, orders made and a contract let in a very short space of time. The contract was awarded to Norwest Holst who completed the works within 18 months and this was opened in time to coincide with opening of the whole length of M54 between Telford and M6.



Archive Information

 M54. The Telford Motorway

The full archive for this scheme is stored at the Northamptonshire CC Record Office.  Click to see details of this record office, then delete the popup window to return.  Its reference number is: MA/M/M54


Document Number Document Description & Author Publisher Date
1 Executive Summary. J.M. Carrington. MAT 1998
2 Telford - M6 Section, Preliminary Report MRCU Mar-70
3 The M54 Telford Motorway (Priorslee to Essington) and connecting roads scheme. Draft statutory line order and plan. DOE Jul-73
4 Extracts from Hansard of Adjournment debate on proposed M54. [Cormack MP and others]. Hansard Dec-73
5 Proposed landscaping and environmental treatment consultation with public Report of Special Advisor. DOE Oct-74
6 Proposed landscaping and environmental treatment. Draft submission on Report of Special Advisor. MRCU Feb-75
7 Landscape and environmental treatment. Decision letter. DOE Jul-75
8 Press Notices. Target population for Telford. Third generation New Towns. DOE Aug-75
9 Letter from S of S (John Silkin) to Chairman Telford D.C. Re population targets. DOE Aug-75
10 Various documents regarding affect of M54 on Chillington Estate (Plans). P.R. Giffard. MRCU DOE Jun-84
11 Side roads and C.P.O.Public Inquiry. Report of Inspector (G.F. Heath). DOE Jul-76
12 Submissions to Secretaries of State on the making of side roads and CPO. DOE Mar-77
13 Press Notice. M54 to be built DOE/DTp Feb-78
14 Summary traffic report. HFA Jul-78
15 Inspector's Report into Side Roads, CPO and Variation Scheme P.I. (Sir Frederick Corfield) DTp Apr-80
16 Inspector's Report into Line Order. (W.G. Onsow) DTp Sep-72
17 Wellington By-Pass, Submission to Made Orders. MRCU Jul-70
18 Advisory Committee of the Landscape Treatment of Trunk Roads. Report on Inspection. (Bruno de Hamel) DTp/LAC Aug-69
19 Decision Letter into Line Order P.I. DTp Aug-73
20 Draft submission to Ministers on making of Line Orders. MRCU Oct-72
21 Report on history of Telford - M6 Section (for opening brochure) SOWP Jun-83
22 Press Article on the development of Telford New Town. (John Young) The Times Mar-76
23 Press Cuttings. Decision on M54. Birmingham Post Aug-73
24 Draft Orders. Connecting Roads Variation Scheme (No.3 ) DTp Jul-80
25 Made Order. Side Roads Variation Scheme (No.3) DTp, HMSO Jul-80
26 Draft Order. Side Roads No.2. DTp, HMSO Jul-80
27 Press Notice. Minister gives Go-Ahead (N. Fowler) DTp, HMSO Nov-80
28 Press Notice. Subsidiary Orders Made. COI Jul-80
29 Paper to Midlands Civils on M54. J.M. Carrington.   Jun-82
30 M54 Newsletter. DTp, T.D.C. Jun-83
31 Forge Junction with Telford Town Centre. Statement of Case. DTp Nov-79
32 Draft Press Notice. Nicholas Ridley opens M54. DTp Nov-83
33 Newspaper Supplements ref Opening of M54. Express & Star Birmingham Post Nov-83
34 Official Opening Brochures. List of Guest Inviations etc. DTp, T.D.C. Nov-83
35 Articles for Express & Star Supplement. Soper/Carrington/others. DTp, SOWP Nov-83
36 Paper Telford Motorway - Planning, Design and Construction. Brant/Rogers/Carrington. I.C.E. Nov-84
37 Contract 3 (Codsall) Construction. J.L. MacPherson. MAT Jun-98
38 Contract 4 Construction. G. Williamson. MAT Jun-98
39 Decision letter into revised side roads C.P.O. and Supplementary Orders. (Routh) DOE Jul-80
40 File of Press Cuttings. All Sections of M54. Express & Star Shropshire Star Birmingham Post Sept 1969 - Dec 1977
41 File of Press Cuttings. All Sections of M54. Express & Star Shropshire Star Birmingham Post Dec 1977 - Sept 1982
42 Official Invitation to Opening of Telford - M6 Section. (Ridley). DTp Nov-83
43 Draft of paper on all statutory processes carried out on M54 (16 No. Schemes and Orders). MRCU Nov-83
44 Telford - M6 Section and Forge I/C. Aerial photographs. SOWP Nov-83
45 Colour Slides (35mm) of construction. Contracts 3 & 4. SOWP 1982/83
46 Construction - Slides. Big Wood Codsall SOWP 82
47 Construction - Slides. Gunstone Farm & Featherstone SOWP 82



Key Dates

M54. The Telford Motorway - Statistics and options

Section Construction started Opened to traffic
Hilton Park to Forge (M6 to J5) ? November 1983
Forge to Cluddley (J5 to J7) December 1972 December 1975