If you’re out and about on the roads in Motherwell and Bellshill you’ll see that big changes are underway to the area’s motorway network.
Squads of workmen in hi-vis jackets and hard hats are swarming around sites on the A8 and M74 while lorries transfer huge quantities of earth from one area to another.
This, for the last few months, has been preparatory work ahead of major building projects aimed at tackling the growing problem of congestion and getting traffic moving faster on some of Scotland’s busiest roads.
Work includes replacing the A8 with motorway between the M8 junctions at Baillieston and Newhouse, upgrading the M73 near Uddingston and reconstructing the Raith interchange on the M74.
The sheer size of the project means it’s a massive challenge for those working on it. There is much to be done before a metre of tarmac can be laid, such as investigating the area’s old mineworkings and diverting pipes and cables installed by power and telecom companies.
Around000 workers will be employed when work is at its peak.
In terms of delays drivers have got off lightly so far as the existing roads are open as normal, but the project team warn disruption will come as they get into the ‘meat’ of the work.
However, they intend to minimise this and are confident the verdict will be it’s all worthwhile when the new look system is up and running in 2017.
Congestion at Raith is caused by motorway traffic meeting vehicles travelling between Bellshill and East Kilbride on the roundabout. This leads to long queues in all directions.
It’s planned to build an underpass which will allow the Bellshill-East Kilbride traffic to avoid the roundabout, cutting traffic there considerably.
Between the Raith junction and junction 6 of the M74 there will be an extra lane, helping drivers leaving the motorway for Motherwell and Hamilton.
Brett Archibald, project sponsor from Transport Scotland, said preparatory work at Raith has been complex as ground levels are being raised and lowered in different areas to accommodate the new roads and flood water from the River Clyde.
He said: “It’s very challenging, not just in traffic terms. We have a site of special scientific interest and are allowed to take only the absolute minimum amount of land for a road scheme, so we are very much constrained in relation to space.”
The work will also include new paths and bridges to allow pedestrians and cyclists a much-needed safe route from the Bothwell area to Strathclyde Park.
The motorway embankment at Raith will be replaced by a bridge and traffic will effectively be on three levels at the junction.
Laurence Campbell, who represents the Scottish Ministers on the project, said: “It’s an unusual construction, but it won’t be dissimilar to the M8 at Newbridge in Edinburgh.”
Over at the A8 Scottish Gas has had to relocate a major pipe network outside Bellshill. There will be big changes at Shawhhead interchange - another congestion blackspot.
The M8 extension will run parallel to the existing A8 and that will mean a second railway bridge next to the ‘Cutty Sark’ bridge near Tannochside.
The stretch of A8 between Baillieston and Newhouse is very busy at most times of the day, but local drivers will see a big difference when the M8 extension takes Edinburgh and Glasgow-bound traffic away.
Mr Archibald said: “With three-quarters of traffic being taken off the A8, it will improve local journey times.”
Mr Campbell accepts disruption is inevitable as work is stepped up over the coming months.
He said: “At present it’s all ‘off road’ work before we get to the meat of the project. The work will be done in sections. It could be completed quicker by closing sections of road, but we want to keep traffic moving and minimise disruption.
“I think it will be a busy summer next year. The A8 handles 90,000-100,000 vehicles every day and the figure for Raith is around 65,000.
“At present congestion in these areas spills over from peak times to the periods in between. Congestion has to be addressed and that’s what this project is doing.
“It will benefit the economy because people will not be sitting in queues.”