History of the M53 as it marks the 50th anniversary of its opening
It’s hard to imagine Wirral without the M53 – even though the motorway itself only celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
Officially opened to the public on February 1, 1972, the busy 18-mile Mid-Wirral Motorway connects the Kingsway Tunnel in Wallasey and the A55 in Chester, passing through Moreton, Woodchurch, Eastham and Ellesmere Port.
As well as being a vital part of Wirral’s transport infrastructure, it has also been used as a dividing line between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’. In 2017 an ‘M53 divide’ was identified by Wallasey MP Angela Eagle, when she described the pattern of poverty in Wirral as ‘particularly marked’, adding: ‘If a line is drawn on the M53, the difference in life expectancy between the west side and the poorer parts of the east side is 10 years.”
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According to the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation (CIHT), which holds records of the history of UK motorways, engineers G Maunsell and Partners were appointed by the Department for Transport in 1965 to carry out a location study for a new route serving the peninsula. .
The idea was that the route would start from the second Wallasey tunnel and end at Hooton. The consultants recommended that the route be a dual carriageway with three lanes to connect to a section of road known as the M531.
Originally known as Hooton Industrial Road, this dual carriageway was built to improve road links by the new Vauxhall Motors factory at Ellesmere Port. The proposed road was later designated M53, in a project which cost £12million to complete.
When did the work start?
Work on the M53 project began in July 1969 and included four interchanges at Moreton, Woodchurch, Clatterbridge and Hooton. A total of 41 bridges were needed during construction.
At Moreton, a secondary road has been designed to provide a link serving the Moreton and Upton area.
Bidston Golf Club lost 20 acres to construction, forcing the course to be altered, while houses in Stanley Road, Ellesmere Port were razed to make way for the M53. The road was completed after the opening of the second Mersey (Kingsway) tunnel and was officially opened by Lord Leverhulme on 1 February 1972.
But the access road to the tunnel was closed on the first day of the new motorway’s existence while the box bridges were reinforced – something that will become familiar to motorists years later.
What happened on opening day?
Wirral entered the Motorway era on Tuesday February 1, 1972, when the ECHO reported that Lord Leverhulme had cut the tape with a “specially engraved pair of scissors”.
Our report added: “The brief ceremony took place at the Hooton Interchange in driving snow and a cold wind.”
The opening ceremony was delayed when the motorcade set off from the Clatterbridge roundabout at 10.15am but took a wrong turn on a slip road, forcing the convoy to continue to Ellesmere Port and return via the causeway heading north.
ECHO reported the highway was built by civil engineering consortium Alfred McAlpine &; Sons and Leonard Fairclough Limited.
Lord Leverhulme was given a souvenir of a silver pheasant to reflect his sporting and rural interests. On the first day of the M53, police reported that traffic was “fairly light all day” and no accidents were reported.
Residents threatened to protest – but motorists were impressed
Residents of the Durley Estate in Prenton had threatened to protest the opening of the motorway, but the protest was postponed after police pledged to step up safety measures for pedestrians in the area.
Parents were told to tell children to use a pedestrian bridge over the Woodchurch interchange rather than crossing the freeway access roads.
ECHO journalist Derek Whale, who was the first member of the public to drive along the M53 from Hooton, said the new motorway was “a great drive in lovely surroundings”.
He wrote: “The highway, which was mostly through snowy countryside, had been salt and grit. The surface was wet, slightly muddy in places. I had good grip and maintained a steady speed of 50mph in an almost freezing wind.
“Drove about 11.5 miles from the A41 to the end of the slip road at Wallasey Village, where I drove to the Kingsway tunnel.”
First highway accident
The first crash on the M53 took place on Friday, February 4, 1972.
A car drove onto the central reservation near the Clatterbridge roundabout and hit crash barriers, but no one was injured.
A Cheshire Police spokesman told ECHO: “This is the first motorway traffic accident we have heard of. Traffic was smooth at the time and has been all day. .
Children have been warned not to cross the M53 as a shortcut
It’s hard to imagine anyone trying to cross the M53 now, but a week after it opened, ECHO reported children crossing the carriageways.
Birkenhead Road Safety Officer Ray Cave told reporters that children were crossing the motorway on their way from their homes in Noctorum to schools in the Woodchurch estate.
It was also feared that a hole in a fence could be a “shortcut to death or serious injury”. A police spokesman said the hole in the fence protecting the highway had been blocked with barbed wire by contractors.
The report concluded: “He added that the police could not overemphasize the danger of people crossing the freeway on foot as a shortcut. It was also illegal.”
The highway was later extended
In March 1981 the M531 was further extended with a viaduct over the A5117 roundabout through what is now Cheshire Oaks. A one mile length of motorway linked to the M56.
When completed it became part of the M53 and the rest of the M531 was renumbered. Work on the final three-mile-long extension began in June 1980.
This section joined the A56 at Hoole, near Chester, and opened to traffic in July 1982.
The Bidston Viaduct had to be reinforced
Repairs to the Bidston Viaduct – which carries traffic from the M53 to the Kingsway Tunnel – have caused traffic chaos for years.
The structure transports approximately 63,000 vehicles per day, including approximately 5,000 heavy goods vehicles. In 1998-99 the viaduct was reinforced to meet new legislation regarding 40 tonne vehicles, but further investigations later revealed that further work was required.
Wagons over three tonnes were ordered down the ramps at Junction 1 of the M53 and across to reach the Wallasey Tunnel. One solution was to tear down and replace the viaduct – but it was eventually agreed to embark on a £70million reinforcement project.
Design and site preparation work began in early 2009 and work was completed in 2012. It included 100 km of new welds, 105,000 new bolts, 400,000 scaffolding planks and 565 tonnes of sheet metal.
Engineers said this would ensure the structural integrity of the bridge for the next 80 years.