25 years of the M25: Fascinating Facts

Bad day on the M25 (Ben Gamble) / CC BY-SA 2.0

The infamous M25 turns 25 this week. Londoners may hate it, but millions of them would be lost without it. So to ‘celebrate’, Auto Trader have 25 fascinating facts to share with you about the (ring) road to hell.

1. At 118 miles long (that’s almost 200km) the M25 is one of the longest ring roads in the world.

2. The M25 doesn’t complete a full circle. At the Dartford Crossing the road briefly becomes the A282.

3. Nor does it completely enclose Greater London. North Ockendon lies outside the M25.

4. Unsurprisingly there is no fastest lap for the M25. At 70 mph a ‘lap’ would take 1hr and 40 minutes – but this kind of driving is best kept to computer game ‘M25 racer’.

5. The Orbital road lent its name to a series of raves in the late eighties and early nineties. This in turn gave house duo Orbital their name.

6. It was Britain’s most expensive motorway when built at a cost of £909m over 11 years – that’s £7.5m per mile.

7. The original plans that eventually led to the construction of the M25 date back to 1911. It was finally opened in 1986 by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher – the 14th different PM since planning began.

8. It was originally supposed to be one of four ring roads around London. But political conflicts and money shortages meant the plans were botched. M25 expert Chris Marshall explains: “The M25 we see today is two halves of two different ring roads. It’s no surprise that it’s the country’s most congested road today.”

9. In the sixties London County Council tried to keep quiet about their radical plans to build four ring roads. The truth came out when Battersea Borough Council had a request for a new swimming pool rejected – because one of the roads would have been built over it.

10. In one part the M25 is twelve lanes wide.

M25 Opening Ceremony by Neil Barnes

11. Among its various nicknames one stands out: “The world’s biggest car park.” On 17th August 1988 a 22-mile long queue of stationary traffic grew between junctions nine and ten.

12. Despite its length and the volume of traffic it only has three service stations – Thurrock, South Mimms and Clacket Lane. The latter are the largest in Europe.

13. Six different police forces co-operate on managing the traffic. They are the Metropolitan Police, Thames Valley, Kent, Essex, Surrey and Herfordshire forces.

14. It has 10,606 lights and 2,959 illuminated signs along its length.

15. Five years after the formal opening of the M25 the Dartford Tunnel area was expanded. The original tunnel, opened in 1963, was complemented by the Queen Elizabeth II bridge.

16. The toll on the Dartford Crossing has been controversial. It was supposed to run from the opening of the bridge in 1991 until April 1st 2003, to cover the cost of building and maintenance. Yet the toll remains and The Department for Transport has discussed plans for the price to increase for cars from £1.50 to £2 this November and to £2.50 in April next year.

17. It has 33 junctions (31 are numbered but include 1a &1b and 21 & 21A) and connects 9 other motorways – the M1, M3, M4, M11, M20, M23, M26, M40 and A1 (M).

18. In parts the junctions are four levels high – but not quite matching the tortuous complexity of Birmingham’s Spaghetti Junction.

19. It passes through the arches of Chalfont Viaduct, a century-old bridge that carries the railway from High Wycombe to London.

20. The variable speed limits on parts of the M25 were innovations when introduced. But the Peripherique ring road around Paris boasts cameras that detect the average speeds of traffic and display the predicted time to the next junction.

21. The M25 is used by 250,000 vehicles per day. At its busiest part 196,000 vehicles a day were measured in 2003 between junctions 13 and 14 near Heathrow Airport.

22. The road is at its busiest on the western side where a system known as MIDAS (Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling) has been implemented in an effort to control speeds and reduce congestion.

23. In building the motorway a special Act of Parliament had to be passed to authorise the crossing over the northern part of Epping Forest.

24. Novelist Iain Sinclair walked anti-clockwise around the motorway in 2000 for his book “London Orbital”.

25. The same company that completed the final length of the M25 in 1986, Balfour Beatty, also built the first section of the M25 in 1975

If you want to know more about Britain’s network of roads, check out Chris’s British Roads Directory



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5 responses to “25 years of the M25: Fascinating Facts

  1. What makes me laugh is when I see all of the rich boys fast cars either standing still or at best doing 15mph. At least there is some justice in this world

  2. I love the m25 myself. nah, just kidding. i have had my troubles with it
    but have never really got stuck too much on it.
    When i was first driving, i drove all the way round it one night for a

  3. There always seems to be never ending roadworks on the M25, and instead of traffic congestion improving its getting worse. The M25 is simply a nightmare and one to avoid if possible.

  4. Did NOT know Orbital were named after the M25…! Ravey….

  5. This is the picture I took at the M25 opening ceremony, I was working for the Barnet Press at the time. Maggie Thatcher in here inimitable way knew exactly what to do to make sure she appeared on front pages – a picture of a Prime Minister symbolically moving traffic cones was ideal. http://www.neilbarnes.com/maggie.html

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