The 1946 Planning Commission line for the South Approach Road ran south of Lisburn and Lurgan and ended on the existing main road half way between Lurgan and Portadown. Some preliminary work had however been done on the selection of a route north of Portadown and well south of Dungannon towards Ballygawley. The published line at the Belfast end was a compromise line between the two lines favoured by the County Surveyors of Antrim and Down respectively using the Down line west of Dunmurry and the Antrim line through the Bog-Meadows. Chambers would have preferred a fork east of Lisburn with one leg going towards Donegall Road and the other towards Belvoir so that the motorway traffic stream would divide naturally, according to where its destination lay in the city or in counties Antrim and Down. This division would have brought some relief to the cross river bridges and to the future city ring roads.
There were several possible lines for a motorway between Lisburn and Moira. A study by Sir William Halcrow and Partners recommended a route, which in part followed the line of the Lagan canal, which had been abandoned in 1954, thereby reducing the impact of severance on good farmland. This was accepted by the Ministry of Commerce although there were some reservations because it was slightly longer than some of the other lines.
From 1952 onwards the County Surveyor of Armagh - J M W (West) Johnston - and his assistant T A (Tom) Harrison worked on a proposal to realign the portion of the T3 trunk road between the Birches Corner and Verners Bridge. The existing road was probably the worst section of the 350 mile Trunk Road system - a bumpy broken concrete road on peat-bog, only 16 feet wide, and for four miles subject to a 25 mph speed limit. The aim was to find a route which would keep the amount of peat removal to a reasonable minimum for the construction of a single carriageway on a stable base. This produced a rather curving alignment. By 1955 a line had been fixed, discussions had been held with the landowners, and there had been negotiations about possible sources of filling material. A contract which was awarded to R J Pattison Nutt for the deposition of mainly soft filling material in the bog. A substantial quantity was placed between 1955 and 1957.
In January 1956, on the recommendation of the County Surveyor, the members of the Armagh County Council indicated that they were unanimously of the opinion that provision should be made for a dual carriageway between Belfast and Dungannon via Moira, Birches and Verners. After strong criticism by the Armagh Council of the delay, the Ministry of Commerce eventually agreed to this proposal which was then incorporated in Lord Glentoran's announcement of 8 June 1956. This was an approximate line running North of Lurgan and Portadown. The Planning Commission map, ten years earlier, had shown a line south of Lurgan.
The Armagh Surveyor, Johnston, took on the task of defining the line from Moira to the border with County Tyrone. The survey, site investigation and preliminary design from Moira to the Birches was completed, and an alignment was produced which lined up with the Armagh section at Verners Bridge and also with the line which had been chosen in 1954 for a by-pass around the South side of Dungannon. After a series of meetings the Ministry engineers proposed, with the full support of the two County Surveyors, that the Moira Dungannon section should be constructed as motorway. An outline economic justification was prepared.
The proposal was put to the Minister, Lord Glentoran. Factors considered included the need for greater safety on the roads, the rapid growth of road traffic and the continued decline in railway usage. He accepted the proposal. The Ministry provided aerial photography for the Moira-Birches section from which preliminary design was done to the scale of 1:2500.
In March 1958 the Ministry published a Notice of Intention to make a Designation Order for a length of motorway between the Birches and Verner's Bridge. The conversion of the original single/dual at grade alignment to motorway required some changes both horizontally and vertically. The detail design was again done by MacAleenan and his supporting staff.
The Armagh County Council and the Tyrone County Council became agents of the Ministry of Commerce for the design and construction of the motorway from Moira to Verner's Bridge and thence to the terminus near Dungannon, respectively - working to standards drawn up by the Ministry's Roads Branch.
The bridge at Kingsway, Dunmurry which carries the Ml over the A1 Belfast Lisburn Road was built in 1957-1959 by Farrans Ltd before the main motorway contract. It was designed by Ministry of Commerce engineers.
By 1959 work was well advanced on the preparation of the contracts for the first two sections of motorway and the acquisition of the necessary land was also well ahead. A Designation Order had been made in 1956. In 1959/60 the contract - C100 - for the Donegall Road to Dunmurry portion of the South Approach was awarded to Sir Alfred McAlpine and Son Ltd. McAlpine was also awarded the contract for the next portion between Dunmurry and Saintfield Road Lisburn (C103) with the bridgework going to Caffin. The local members of the Institution of Civil Engineers visited these works on 9 September 1960.
By the Spring of 1962 work on both sections was well advanced - including all the necessary sign posting, road markings, etc, not only on the motorway but also on the roads leading to it. The Road Traffic Branch of the Royal Ulster Constabulary mounted a vigorous campaign to educate drivers as to how to use a motorway and the motoring organisations such as the RAC and the AA produced explanatory leaflets. Traffic Branch also organised the patrolling of the motorways on a basis similar to that used in England.
The Special Roads Act (NI) had received a first reading but would not become law in time for the opening of the first sections so the Ministry of Home Affairs Assistant Secretary made temporary Regulations under the existing powers to control traffic using the motorway. The Act eventually became law in March 1963.
Both sections were opened to traffic on 10 July 1962. There was no opening ceremony. The traffic police just waved the first motorcyclist through.
Northern Ireland then had its first 6.7 miles of motorway. The first length of motorway in the British Isles - the 8 miles long Preston By Pass had been opened in December 1958 - 21 years after the British engineers including Dundas Duncan had been on the visit to the German Autobahnen. A 67 miles length of the English Ml was opened in November 1959.
At a meeting in March 1959 between the Armagh County Surveyor and senior administrative and engineering staff of the Ministry of Commerce a tentative programme was drawn up for the schemes between Moira and Verners Bridge. It was agreed that the first contract should be for 4.5 mile length between the Birches junction and the Tyrone boundary at Verners.
In 1960 the consultant Robert F Early and Partners was appointed to design the flyover bridges on this section. There were some problems with these bridges but modifications to the design were carried out successfully before the completion of the contract. The minor bridges were designed by the County Surveyor's staff.
In places the peat was as much as 12 metres deep. Bog blasting was used to a limited extent. It was successful where clay filling material was being used but not where rock was being used. Rock fill was used over most of the length and in most places the excavated peat was spread along the sides of the new road. The contract - C201 - was carried out by Thomas Lowe & Sons and the bridges were built by Farrans Ltd. The bridge over River Blackwater was designed by Clements and constructed in 1961-63 by Farrans Ltd as a separate contract. The Designation Order for this section was made in 1958.
The work was supervised by Armagh County Council. The temporary ending was in Co Tyrone near Tamnamore School. A temporary footbridge was provided to enable school children to cross the temporary ending in safety. This 4.5 mile length was opened to traffic on 1 December 1964.
On 15 December 1963 the portion between Saintfield Road, Lisburn and Sprucefield (on the Hillsborough Road) was opened. This 2.0 miles length (C 117) was designed by Halcrow (under W R Briggs) and constructed by John Graham Ltd.
Work continued on the detail design of other portions of M1 - Halcrow on the portion between Sprucefield and Moira, Armagh County Council on the portion between Moira and the Birches, and Tyrone County Council on the final length between Verners and Dungannon. The bridges on the Moira-Birches length were designed by Freeman, Fox and Partners and the bridges in Tyrone by Scott Wilson and Kirkpatrick. The soil testing in Tyrone was done by Sandberg.
Designation Orders were made for the Sprucefield-Moira length in 1961 (an amendment of the 1956 Order) and for the Moira-Birches length in 1962.
The main line for the portion of motorway between Moira and the Birches was settled reasonably quickly, but there was very considerable discussion as to how it should be connected to Portadown. The engineers agreed that there should be links from both East and West but the Ministry's senior administrative staff wanted to have only one central link.
A further complication came from the study of the area between Portadown and Lurgan as a possible site for a new city. This was shown in the Matthew Report published in February 1963. An origin and destination census for the Portadown area was carried out in February 1961. There were discussions with representatives of the Portadown and Lurgan Borough Councils and the Armagh County Council. The arguments continued through 1962 and 1963. Eventually the contract allowed for a connection to Portadown from the North-East at Ballynacor.
The town planner C F S (Cecil) Newman, who worked on the preparation of the Matthew Plan, said that the good access provided by the Ml motorway was a very important factor in the choice of the site for the "new city" which became Craigavon.
Capital expenditure on motorways reached a peak in the mid-1960s. Halcrow prepared and supervised the contract for the 6.5 mile length between Sprucefield and Moira. The contractor was Sir Lindsay Parkinson. It was opened to traffic on 6 December 1965.
Armagh County Council prepared the contract - C 203 - for the 6 miles length between Moira and A76 Lough Road, Lurgan. The bridges were designed by Freeman Fox. This section was opened to traffic on 28 February 1966. The opening ceremony was performed by Mrs Doris Craig, wife of the Minister of Development. The contractor was John Graham.
Armagh County also prepared and supervised the contract (c 204) for the 7.8 mile portion between Lurgan and the Birches where the contractor was Sir Lindsay Parkinson.
This scheme included a bridge over River Bann and a long straight - 3 miles - through peat country west of the Bann. About 4.5 million cubic yards of peat were removed or displaced. The Moira Railway and River Bann Bridges were designed by W S Atkins and Partners and work on them - in a separate contract - was started about June 1963. The Contractor was Cementation.
The section from Lurgan to Ballynacor was opened on 27 November 1967 and the remainder to the Birches on 29 January 1968.
Tyrone County Council prepared the contract for the 5.0 miles Laghey section between Verner's Bridge and the A29 Moy Road near Dungannon. The bridges were designed by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick. The Designation Order for this section was made under the powers in the Special Roads Act (1963). This length was opened on 23 December 1967. The contract was carried out by John Graham Ltd.
The Minister of Development, Mr W K (William) Fitzsimmons, officially opened the Ballynacor-Birches and Verners-Dungannon sections on 29 January 1968. The M1 had been completed in 10 years - some 38 miles of dual two lane motorway plus ancillary works.