Godsend and curse, M62 has come of age at last

'It's a godsend and a curse' neatly sums up many people's views of the M62, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary.

The M62 in West Yorkshire as it splits past Stott Hall Farm, and snakes up Moss Moor over the Pennines. PIC: Tony Johnson

They are the words of Christine Edwards who directs customers to the Turnpike Inn, at Rishworth Moor, telling them it is on the opposite side of the reservoir “where the motorway splits in the middle” – or as the poet Simon Armitage memorably put it “where the M62 unzips its flies”.

Ms Edwards, who previously ran another Turnpike Inn at the Liverpool end of the M62, can watch the traffic flowing past the window: “It can turn on a sixpence – there was an accident at teatime yesterday and it caused tailbacks. You could almost say you get an accident on a daily basis.

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“It’s a bit hellish for people who do that daily commute because of the accidents and roadworks – but the access is brilliant.”

JULY 1969: The graceful arch of the new bridge emerges above its web of scaffolding to span the gap torn in the Scammonden Valley for the M62 motorway.

Opened in stages between 1971 and 1976, the 107-mile road, connecting Hull and Liverpool, via Manchester and Leeds, has a daily average traffic flow in West Yorkshire of 144,000, and several areas prone to gridlock, especially between Leeds and Huddersfield.

Blighted by congestion it may be, but AA spokesman Luke Bosdet points out people would be in “serious trouble” without it – especially as winter draws in.

Prior to the opening of its first Yorkshire section, trans-Pennine routes in wintry conditions were at best hazardous, and often impassable.

The motorway is, after all, the highest of any in Britain, reaching 1,221 feet (372m) above sea level at Windy Hill near Saddleworth. It is considered by many a triumph of road design. As one admirer put it: “In terms of design, the Pennine section of M62 is as advanced a piece of road engineering as was, say, the Concorde to aircraft. It was cambered and aligned to shed itself of snow, and that is what it has done.”

JULY 1969: The graceful arch of the new bridge emerges above its web of scaffolding to span the gap torn in the Scammonden Valley for the M62 motorway.

One of the people who knows it well is Bob Hazelden, junior organiser and ex-captain and ex-president of Outlane Golf Club, near Huddersfield. “When the M62 came through it took off the 18th and 1st hole and the motorway company moved us up to Slack and built a new clubhouse.” These days if you are playing the third hole and there’s an accident on the motorway you will know about it. “If there’s a bit of a bump and the traffic gets stopped they’ll sit there watching us play golf,” he added.

For many, Stott Hall Farm, the lonely farmhouse which lies between the carriageways in the rugged heart of the Pennines, is the most intriguing landmark. Folklore handed down over the generations had it that the farmer who lived there stubbornly refused to budge, forcing the engineers to fork the M62 round his home. Sadly the story is untrue – it escaped demolition because the geology at that point couldn’t support a six-lane motorway. It was just too steep.

What can drivers expect of the M62 in future? More stretches of “smart” motorways are planned between junctions 10 to 12, Warrington to Eccles, and junctions 20 to 25, Rochdale to Brighouse at a cost of £161m.

A £136m “smart” scheme – which includes variable speed limits and controversially utilising the hard shoulder – already covers 25km near Bradford and Leeds. Credited with saving drivers five minutes a day on some stretches, concerns include the safety of drivers who have broken down.