No exit

Published: 5 April 2018

Bristol's M32 recently gained a new junction that - I'm sorry about this - you're not allowed to use. It has no junction number and a big "no entry" sign because it's for buses only. To mark this strange new addition to the motorway network, here are five places you can't leave the motorway, starting in Bristol.

The M32's bus only junction

Over the last couple of years works have been progressing to build a new junction on the M32, the little urban motorway spur from the M4 that travels in to the centre of Bristol. New sliproads have been formed between junctions 1 and 2, facing south towards Bristol, adjacent to the existing bridge that carries Stoke Lane over the motorway.

The brand new interchange would be extremely handy for avoiding the queues at junction 1 if it wasn't for the fact that, very unusually, it exists solely for the use of local bus services - part of Bristol's MetroBus project to create three high-frequency, high-speed bus routes. One route will run from Cribbs Causeway (to the north west of Bristol near the M5) through the city centre to Hengrove in the southern suburbs, and it will do it by joining the M32 from Stoke Lane. A new bus lane adjacent to the central reservation has been installed on the southbound motorway too.

New and unusual signs for the M32's newest junction and the roundabout at the end of the sliproad. Click to enlarge

New and unusual signs for the M32's newest junction and the roundabout at the end of the sliproad. Click to enlarge

For that reason, this junction isn't open to regular traffic. It has no junction number, though it does have advance signs that mark the exit with a no entry sign and a supplementary plate that reads "except local buses".

Should you decide that your car qualifies as a local bus for the purposes of trying out a shortcut to Frenchay, you'll find that the sliproads end in a roundabout where you will be invited to u-turn back towards Bristol, and only genuine buses are able to use the connecting road through to Stoke Lane. Sorry.

The M4 "works unit"

Spoiler alert: it's not really a works unit.

Travel eastbound on the M4 from Bristol towards London and you'll find an exit between junctions 14 and 13 that doesn't have any corresponding sliproads on the westbound side. The signs say "works unit only", so that would just make it another place for police patrols to turn around or a depot for maintenance vehicles or perhaps a salt store for the winter.

Except that it doesn't look like one. A normal "works unit" exit is just a paved track leading off the hard shoulder with some no entry signs and a metal gate. This is a pair of sliproads, one off and one on, built to full motorway specifications and complete with hard shoulders. They curve off to the left somewhere. It looks like an actual junction. And there isn't the usual blue sign to mark the entrance. It has signs like a regular junction at one mile, half a mile and at the diverge point, where the "works unit only" legend appears in black on a white panel with a red border - the colour conventions for signs to military sites.

A strangely coloured sign on the M4, and another in the distance. What works happen here? Click to enlarge

A strangely coloured sign on the M4, and another in the distance. What works happen here? Click to enlarge

The red border is the clue. It's not a motorway maintenance compound at all. The sliproads lead to a locked metal gate that opens on to a farm track, and the farm track leads in a straight line between fields to the back entrance to RAF Welford, a former airfield that has been used since 1955 as a vast munitions store by the US military. (Don't worry, these aren't state secrets - it's all on Wikipedia.)

You might not be allowed to take this exit, but a Google Streetview car boldly explored it in 2011, so you can still take a virtual journey right up to the locked gate and the red signs that explain how much trouble you'll be in if you go any further.

The M8's sliproad to the undergrowth

If you're unhappy about some sliproads being open to other people but not to you, then you might find this one more reassuring. Not only are you not allowed to use it, but neither is anybody else. Between junctions 16 and 17 of the M8, running through central Glasgow, are a series of odd sliproad stumps and bridges that were supposed to form the start of an unbuilt motorway northwards, and in their midst is a forgotten and forbidden sliproad.

The motorway and its junction were never built, but if you're travelling westbound you'll see a length of sliproad leaving the motorway on the right hand side (this is the M8 in Glasgow, so that's perfectly normal) and curving away under the opposite carriageway.

There's not much to stop you turning right off the M8, but this exit is only for intrepid gardeners with good brakes. Click to enlarge

There's not much to stop you turning right off the M8, but this exit is only for intrepid gardeners with good brakes. Click to enlarge

Don't take it, though, because if you peer under the bridge you'll see the sliproad then abruptly ends in an overgrown embankment just beyond. The curving sliproad is banked up quite steeply to allow the corner to be taken at speed, but that carefully designed engineering will now just enable exiting vehicles to reach the shrubbery more quickly.

The sliproad is the only substantial part of the Maryhill Motorway that was ever built. If it had been finished the motorway would have been faster, safer and, most significantly, would have served more important and less floral destinations. There's more information on Glasgow's unbuilt motorways in our article on Glasgow and at the Glasgow Motorway Archive.

The M60 back door to the Trafford Centre

Are we nearly there yet? Click to enlarge
Are we nearly there yet? Click to enlarge

If you've ever been to the Trafford Centre, or ever tried to use the western side of the M60 on a weekend, or if you've ever had that recurring nightmare about being stuck in a never-ending traffic jam around a series of endless roundabouts on a doomed quest to find a parking space while a toddler in the back seat screams inconsolably about their apple juice being too warm, you'll know exactly how bad the traffic can be in this part of the world. What you will dream of, as you queue to leave the motorway and patiently wait to join the queue for the car park, is a direct route from the M60 to the parking bays.

Luckily, one exists. On the anti-clockwise carriageway between junctions 10 and 9 - the part where you can see the plasticky Victoriana of the Trafford Centre through the trees on your left - there's a side turning of the kind you might see leading off an ordinary road and it looks quite out of place on a motorway. A short length of two-way road complete with a dashed white centre line leads to one of the roundabouts on the car park ring road, with John Lewis just in front of you.

Its presence on this list makes the bad news no surprise. You're not allowed to use it. A huge green-painted gate blocks the way from the M60 and a raising barrier closes it off from the roundabout. It's not for you. It exists as an emergency access point, presumably to be opened up for ambulances and fire engines when some crisis strikes, while the ordinary access roads are full of cars queuing to get in or get out, and the cars are full of toddlers who wish to voice a complaint about their apple juice.

The M25 building site

The fifth junction on this list is actually still under construction, so even the people who are allowed to use it aren't actually allowed to use it yet. It will be in full use only for a few years before being dismantled again, but don't let that fool you into thinking it's just some muddy haul road for tipper trucks to use during a motorway widening project.

The M25's new junction takes shape through the April drizzle. Even the people who will be allowed to use it aren't allowed to use it yet. Click to enlarge

The M25's new junction takes shape through the April drizzle. Even the people who will be allowed to use it aren't allowed to use it yet. Click to enlarge

If you find yourself on the M25 between junctions 16 and 17, have a look on the left hand side. Between two bridges carrying local roads across the motorway there is, now, an exit on both sides to a proper kerbed road heading away to the left. It exists to provide road access to a major work compound for the construction of HS2, and if it seems a strange way to provide access to a railway construction site, remember how vocal the opposition to the line was in this area and how neatly this avoids construction traffic using local roads.

This site will be quite a hive of activity in coming years, being positioned between the long tunnel that will carry the line under the West London suburbs and the other long tunnel that will take it under the Chilterns. Where the railway line briefly gets a sniff of fresh air there will be a lot of muck to take out and a lot of supplies to bring in.

The signs aren't up yet so we don't know how motorists will be warned of its presence, but the smart money is on another blue "works unit only" sign, the catch-all indicator of something just off the motorway that's none of your business.

More places you can't go

The motorway network is full of maintenance depots and gated access points to local roads that are used by works vehicles and police patrols. The junctions in this list are all a bit different to that. Have we missed any? If you're aware of any other unusual, private or secretive ways to get off the motorway then you can share them in the comments below.

One place you can go is the M32's page in the Motorway Database that now sports a new, un-numbered junction that's just for buses.

Comments

Gary L 10 April 2018

There are at least two others on the M11. One is just to the south of Junction 6, another is between Junctions 8 and 9, roughly at marker post 60/0. Both are simple LILO slips that join up with Coopersale Lane and Wicken Road respectively. Used them often in my brief time as an inspector for Area 6.

Andy Devanney 11 April 2018

Hi, If you travel south on the A5103 Princess parkway from Manchester, where you can turn on to the M60 and head east, just as you join the slip road there is another slip road that splits to the left that is just for buses. It heads under the M60.
Also as you approach this junction southwards there is a 40mph sign but then the next one you see is an end of motorway sign on the bus lane. You don't actually pass a sign telling you that national motorway speed limits apply. There are road paintings to say M60 and bus lane though. All rather confuddling.

There is similar bus only provision on both sides of the Parkway, with entry and exit routes meaning buses use local roads under the M60, albeit for a very short distance.

The idea is so that (1) buses can use the bus stops on the south side of the interchange without having to pull back across the M60 slips, and (2), they don't have to weave between that junction and the one to the south, which also has a pair of bus stops on the sllips.

Toby Speight 11 April 2018

As always, your writing is spot on, and sometimes makes me fall off my chair - "more important and less floral destinations", indeed!

There are two on the M77 between Junctions 1 and 2. Southbound, near J2, there is a small gate leading into Pollok Park, just after the footbridge through that park, while northbound there is access to the railway yard just before J1.

Terry Trumpets 12 April 2018

There's a pair of T-junctions at the north end of the M18 just south of Rawcliffe Bridge, onto VERY narrow single-track sliproads that lead to a small country lane, and another similar set on the M62 to the north-east of Rawcliffe Bridge. They're there so that emergency vehicles can join or leave the M18 or M62 near the junction where they meet, as the next junction with any local access is a long way from the interchange.

In both cases there are no gates at either end, but they're deep in the countryside of East Yorkshire and the roads they connect to are unclassified and very isolated, so the possibility of abuse is low. Plus, the entries and exits are so tight you'd have to take them at walking pace. I really don't envy any emergency vehicle driver who ends up having to use them.

Greg 14 April 2018

One thing that surprises me is that the new M32 sliproads have full-width hard shoulders all the way to the roundabout. Pretty swish for under 100 vehicles a day.

Perhaps so the buses can still get past when other buses break down there or when hapless fools decide that just stopping is the best way to deal with having taken the wrong turn? Or, like on the little bus/contraflow cycle lane at the other end of Stoke Lane, when coach or taxi drivers fancy a fag break.

Lewis 15 April 2018

There are two I know of. On the M20 immediately west of junction 5 are a pair of east-facing slips connecting to Hall Road via a gate. The off-slip (westbound) is signed "For Emergency Vehicles only." There is a large hospital about 2 miles away but this route is longer than by junction 5 itself.

On the M2 Medway Bridge, there is a cycle path on the north side adjacent to the carriageway. On the east side, it has its own secret sliproad-style connection to Borstal Road (again Google StreetView have ventured along the slip). On the west side, however, the cycle path re-uses the on-slip of old junction 2 (from prior to the second bridge build and M2 widening in 2003).

The Trafford Centre does actually have another open exit from the car park that goes straight onto the m60 towards Stockport. Bypasses the roundabout. No use if you want to go the other way.

Nicholas 17 April 2018

The Trafford Centre gates are indeed for stated reasons. The Centre has comprehensive procedures in the event of an emergency, but if necessary, the motorway can be blocked whist traffic escapes the car parks directly onto the motorway.

Mark Schueler 17 April 2018

The remnants of the southern terminus of the Collumpton by-pass still exist on the M5. It's signed as a police ramp and the far end is gated.

Emil 17 April 2018

The M4 one you mentioned, if you go on Google street view for that one, the signs were replaced by the blue motorway signs in 2016

Stourdave 29 April 2018

I spotted one on the NB M6 between 35 and Burton services. It’s a painted LILO affair (M50 J3 is only slightly bigger!) and comes out on to Cinderbarrow Lane, which turns to cross the motorway to the South. I was intrigued to follow the M6 here as it seems to have severed many lanes and roads. In fact at the point it connects to Cinderbarrow Lane it also severed the Lancaster canal, which was culverted several times in this section.

It caught my eye as it immediately stops at a pair of farm gates - no slip road to speak of, which I fancy might be unusual. It is signed as a Works Unit from the motorway. On the other side, aside from the No Entry signs and “except authorised vehicles” plates, there’s also a sign in Transport (albeit in all caps) on the gate itself saying “PRIVATE / NO ADMITTANCE / EXCEPT AUTHORISED VEHICLES”. I’m sorry to say I’m not sure how “private” a 6 lane motorway thundering through the Lancashire countryside can be! (Not that you’d know it - there’s no chopsticks sign to speak of!)

Speaking of Streetview cars going where they shouldn't, one has documented the unbuilt-services-turned-police-compound at Chigwell on the M11, while it was in use as a marshalling area for Olympic construction vehicles. (At the time it was signed as a full exit with black HGV signs and countdown markers, which may be why the driver braved it.)

Ianno 16 May 2018

Not a motorway (quite), but on the A666 Farnworth/Kearsley bypass just north of where it becomes the M61, southbound carriageway was an access compound similar to the HS2 example on the M25.

It was created in 2015 when Network Rail were reboring Farnworth tunnel for railway electrification. In this case, it gave heavy vehicle access into an otherwise difficult to access site with no road access (the other tunnel end being heavily built up and residential in a cutting), and also access to an intermediate shaft in the tunnel, through which concrete was pumped as part of the works.

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