The first spaghetti junction

What do you get when you cross three motorways, two railway lines, three canals, and two rivers? The first junction to be called spaghetti.

Spaghetti Junction
Original – Highways Agency photo on flickr [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The term spaghetti junction is commonly used to describe a complex motorway interchange, with roads piled on top of and tangled around each other. The first interchange to be described this way is in Birmingham, England.

The M6 motorway comes down from the north of England. The A38 comes up from Devon. The A5127 sidles in from nearby Lichfield. The rivers Tame and Rea meet. The Cross-City railway line rattles in from Redditch, and the Walsall from Staffordshire. Three canals join up, one of them the most famous canal of all: the Grand Union. And this all happens in one place: Gravelly Hill.

The Gravelly Hill Interchange sought to sort out this mess. The motorways were raised over the rails, canals, and rivers, and interleaved with each another in a tangle that the local newspaper described as a “cross between a plate of spaghetti and an unsuccessful attempt at a Staffordshire knot.” And so the name Spaghetti Junction was born.

It’s a term now used whenever road connections get so complex that you feel like you’re trapped inside a Piranesi etching. Where I live, we have a huge spaghetti junction. You probably have one nearby as well.


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