The M25 is the longest orbital motorway in the World and second largest city bypass in Europe measuring a total of 117 miles and covered by 234 bridges. Only Berlin has a bigger ring road and that is just four miles longer at 121 miles in length. At the time of completion in 1986 it had cost £1billion, receiving just £5.8 million from the European Union (European Community as it was then) from it’s transport infrastructure fund – just over 0.5% of the total cost.
Calls for an orbital road around London date back as early as 1905 from the Royal Commission before the modern motorcar and transfer of many freight goods from canal or railroad switched to road. The motor car and lorry revolution steadily increased the amount of traffic on British roads and contributed greatly to the speed at which London developed new suburbs and new and expended commercial, industrial and residential areas. Road building allowed access to areas that were not close to railways and canals – allowing planners to ‘fill in the gaps’ between existing towns and villages and create the sprawling conurbation that London has become today.
The legal battle to create the M25 was an on-going process through the building of the London Orbital motorway. An extensive public consultation was required along with an incredible 39 public enquiries that sat for more than 700 days in total. The legal process kept many firms of solicitors in London busy throughout the public inquiry process.
The M25 motorway crosses the River Thames between Essex and Kent by the riverside suburbs of Thurrock and Dartford. Initially, the Dartford Tunnel carried traffic under the river in both directions. This was expanded from one to two lanes in each direction with the building of a second parallel tunnel opened in 1980, but it was already clear that the huge increase in traffic would cause a bottle-neck at the crossing. The constant increase in traffic meant bumper to bumper traffic jams for cars in Essex and Kent and needed to be dealt with. In 1988 plans were approved for a bridge, allowing a total of 9 lanes of traffic to cross the river, with cars travelling from Essex to Kent passing over the water and traffic heading Northbound would enter Essex through the tunnels.
Traffic levels continue to increase steadily, with many lorries and cars coming to the UK from Europe via the ferry links in Kent and the Eurotunnel from Calais to Dover, bringing lorries to the M25 on their way to destinations across the country. The motorway has become a main hub of the UK motorway network, used by freight and haulage firms. The motorway links to the North via the M1, West via the M4, Midlands via the M40 and East Anglia via the M11. The road network continues to grow and as a result of the increased pressure, the M25 has been undergoing a recent expansion to four or five lanes in sections for the past few years. The business of expanding the network in Essex section is currently nearing completion.
It is likely that the number of vehicles travelling on the UK road network will continue to grow, and the M25 will require constant widening and expansion until those levels plateaux. Successive Governments have worked to limit traffic growth and pollution but there seems no end to the growth of road usage in the foreseeable future. The Highways agency manages roadworks and construction works on the M25. Click here for a list of known delays and road works spots on the M25 motorway.