The whole 55-mile length of the M11 lies in the Eastern Region from Junction 4 with the A406 North Circular Road (there are no Junctions 1 to 3) to Junction 14 and A14/A428 north-west of Cambridge.
The need for a new motorway between London and Cambridge arose from consideration during the 1940's of the existing A11 trunk road as an important route serving traffic between London and East Anglia. The existing road at its south end started in the City of London and ran through the busy outer urban areas to Woodford in the north-east sector of London. It then ran through the heart of Epping Forest and the urban areas of Epping, Harlow, Bishop's Stortford, Stansted Mountfitchet and several other communities. All of them suffered from the heavy commercial vehicles trundling through narrow streets neither built nor intended for the volume and type of traffic.
In August 1962 the Ministry of Transport, the Rt Hon Ernest Marples, appointed W S Atkins & Partners as consultants to investigate a proposed motorway between Temple Mills in east London and Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire. Its purpose was twofold:
But the terms of reference did not preclude consideration of routes other than those specified. In the event, the project was subsequently extended beyond Bishop's Stortford to Stump Cross, 18 kilometres south of Cambridge, and an alignment through the Roding Valley in the London urban section was adopted in place of one through the Lea Valley (proposed initially by the Ministry and the County Surveyors concerned) in order to achieve savings in excess of £10 million.
In all, route alternatives covering 480 kilometres were examined before a draft scheme was published by the Ministry in 1966. This met with numerous objections, as a result of which the Ministry modified their proposals and republished them in December 1968. In July of the following year a public inquiry was held at Epping at which further objections to the project were voiced, not least of them being concerned with the inevitably intrusive effect of the proposed motorway on the Roding Valley, the neighbouring residential areas and their sports and recreational grounds. But the scheme did provide the most acceptable solution to a difficult problem, and the outcome proved successful. In the autumn of 1969 W S Atkins & Partners began the final design of the route.
One of the largest motorway projects ever to be engineered by a single consultant, this section of the M11 ran a distance of 63.6 kilometres northwards from Redbridge in east London to Stump Cross, where it temporarily rejoined the A11 south of Cambridge prior to the completion of the Cambridge Western By-pass. When complete, it cost over £40 million. The Eastern Road Construction Unit were responsible for designing the extension by-passing Cambridge on the west side to link it via the A14 Trunk road to the A1 for traffic to the north and East Midlands.
South of Cambridge, construction was divided into four contracts. Contract 1, mainly urban, ran from Redbridge to Loughton, Essex, a distance of nine kilometres; and 2, entirely rural, from Loughton to S Harlow (13 kilometres). Contract 3 continued across open country to just east of Bishop's Stortford in Hertfordshire (15 kilometres); and 4, still rural, temporarily concluded the motorway at Stump Cross (27 kilometres). Contract 3 was the first part to commence and be completed followed by Contracts 1 and 2. Contract 4, in two sections, 4A and 4B, commenced shortly after for completion in 1979.