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Mancunian Way
Castlefield to Piccadilly, Manchester, UK
associated engineer
G Maunsell & Partners
date  November 1963 - March 1967, 1992
UK era  Modern  |  category  Road  |  reference  SJ836971
The Mancunian Way, or A57(M), was known as Manchester's "Highway in the Sky" when it was built the first part of a motorway network that was never completed. It is one of several pioneering prestressed concrete elevated roadways designed by G. Maunsell & Partners in the 1960s and is still in daily use.
The Mancunian Way was part of the network set out in the 1962 South East Lancashire & North East Cheshire Highway Plan, which was itself rooted in the 1945 City of Manchester Plan for rebuilding after World War II (1939-45). Construction of the Mancunian Way was authorised by a 1961 parliamentary bill, to ease city centre congestion by taking (mostly commercial) traffic along a new route through the southern part of the central area, between the industrial zones in the east and the docks and Trafford Park in the west.
The Council's engineer and surveyor designed the ground level roads, service diversions, drainage and landscaping. G. Maunsell & Partners, in particular partner David Lee, designed the elevated structure and supervised construction of the whole scheme.
Work proceeded in two stages. In the first, an 870m stretch of dual carriageway east of the A6 towards Fairfield Street was constructed over two years, opening to traffic in November 1965. In the second, the motorway was constructed between the A6 and the A56 (Chester Road), including the section of elevated twin decks. This work started in December 1964 and opened in March 1967 the region's first urban motorway.
The main carriageways were designed for a speed of 64km/hour with a minimum radius of 457.2m, maximum gradient of 1 in 25 and maximum super-elevation of 1 in 35. The speed limit was later raised to 80km/hour. To fit with the existing ground level roads, the access ramps have a maximum gradient of 1 in 19 and a minimum radius of just 33.2m.
Between the ramped junctions with Cambridge Street and the A34 (Brook Street) the layout changes from dual two-lane to dual three-lane, and the overall road width increases from 18.6m to 24.1m. The transitions between two and three lanes are formed in situ, including the single-lane ramps.
Foundations for the elevated motorway consist of a pair of bored concrete piles with a linking pile cap under each column. The piles are between 900mm-1.4m in diameter where they are founded in the predominantly Triassic Bunter Sandstone bedrock, but are 2.1m in diameter in areas of Permian Manchester Marl. The rectangular in situ concrete columns are integral with the pile caps. They taper on the longitudinal sides and are vertical on the transverse faces.
The elevated prestressed concrete deck is 985m long between abutments and has 32 spans. To accommodate existing structures, the west span is 22.9m, the east span is 29.7m and two of the spans are 18.3m, while the other 28 are 32m long. The deck is a hollow box spine beam with the top slab cantilevered on both sides.
The units have preformed ducts longitudinally through the webs, threaded with Freyssinet multi-strand prestressing cables once the units were in position and sections were joined by 75mm nominal thickness in situ concrete joints. The abutments and intermediate ramps terminate in solid reinforced concrete end blocks, forming anchorages for the main prestressing cables.
By contrast with Hammersmith Flyover (1959-62), where three types of precast concrete unit were required (beams, cantilevers and deck slabs), here a single unit combines all functions. More than 85% of the superstructure is uniform in cross section. This simplified casting and erection, and reduced costs.
Standard precast prestressed beams spanning 11.8m were used to construct the bridge over the River Medlock (near Oxford Road). Each of the 18 pedestrian subways are reinforced concrete box culverts, their walls adorned with glazed tiles.
The whole carriageway area was covered by an embossed copper waterproofing membrane, topped with a 70mm thick double layer of hot rolled asphalt surfacing. Extensive landscaping was carried out along the route and under the elevated section.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson opened the Mancunian Way on 5th May 1967. In 1968 it won a Concrete Award there is a commemorative plaque on the bridge over Upper Brook Street (A34).
The motorway sign on the eastbound approach to the A34 junction hides a famous mistake. Behind it a slip road terminates in mid air it was abandoned because traffic leaving the motorway would have been driving the wrong way along a one-way street (Brook Street).
In 1992, the Mancunian Way was extended east to Pin Mill Brow (A665), with twin composite steel and concrete decks. This 300m long section is known as the A635(M) and is the shortest motorway in the UK. At the same time, a flyover was built to replace the roundabout with the A6, and the A56 roundabout was grade separated.
Design engineer: David Lee of G Maunsell & Partners
City engineer (1992): Sinclair Mcleod
Design engineer (1992): Alan Goss
Resident engineer (1992): Tony Buller
Research: ECPK
"Maunsell: The Firm and its Founder" by Nigel Watson and Frank Turner,
AECOM Technology Corporation, 2005

Mancunian Way