In 1938 C S Meik and Halcrow produced a report on the Cross River Traffic Problem in Belfast for the Ministry of Home Affairs. There was a further study by H E Aldington in 1950.
The Planning Commission report of 1945 suggested ring road proposals. These were developed in the 1950s by the City Planning Officer E V (Victor) Walshe. He produced a scheme for an at grade ring road with roundabouts at the junctions with the radial routes. Following discussions with engineers from the Ministry of Commerce's Roads Branch the scheme was revised to urban motorway form. It was to be partially depressed and partially elevated and to be connected to all the main approach roads to the city. This scheme was approved by the Belfast Corporation on 8 June 1961 and sent to the Ministry of Commerce for a decision. By 1963 the Corporation and the Ministry had agreed that there should be a ring road round the city centre and that it should be mainly elevated with radial motorways outwards to relieve the existing main arteries. The design was upgraded in 1964 following a visit to USA by Corporation and Ministry roads and planning staff in 1963. The Corporation approved the revised scheme, in principle, in September 1964.
In April 1965 the London consultants, R Travers Morgan and Partners were appointed by the Corporation to design and supervise the construction of the scheme. In June 1965 the Ministry of Development invited the same firm to design and supervise the works necessary to link the radial motorways (M1, M2, M3 and M4) to the Ring Road. In April 1965 RTM were also appointed by Belfast Corporation to carry out traffic and transportation studies and in June 1965 were invited by the Ministry of Development to extend the Transportation Study and Report to cover the Greater Belfast Urban area.
In April 1965 the Belfast Corporation appointed the planning consultants Building Design Partnership to prepare a comprehensive plan for the County Borough Area. In December 1966 this commission was extended by the Ministry of Development to cover the preparation of a plan for the area within the 'Stop-line', which had been recommended by Sir Robert Matthew in 1963.
The Urban Motorway Plan was presented to the Belfast Corporation and the Ministry of Development on 6 February 1967, the Transportation Plan on 19 June 1969 and the Belfast Area Plan on 20 June 1969.
Travers Morgan continued with detail design and preparation of contract documents for the Phase I portion of the Urban Motorway, which would connect the M1 and M2 motorways. This was to be of elevated dual three lane form. The work was supervised by a Joint Progress Committee.
There is a description of the scheme in the paper "Belfast Urban Motorway" presented by Noble at the National Conference of the Institution of Highway Engineers in Belfast on 5 July 1971 and published in the journal of the Institution in June 1972.
In 1971 a public inquiry into the proposal was held. The report, published in September 1973, accepted the scheme generally but with some modifications. The decision by the Minister of State accepted that the western leg of the Belfast Urban Motorway should go ahead but that further consideration should be given to the other portions - particularly with regard to timing. By 1971 land for the western leg had been vested and cleared but civil disturbances, which had started in 1968, held up early piling work. Local government reorganisation was in the air and was causing some uncertainty. Another attempt to carry out piling at the north end of the west leg (the M 1M2 connection) was again prevented by civil disturbances towards the end of 1973.
The oil crisis of the autumn of 1973 was among the factors which led to a much more difficult financial climate for road works. The public attitude towards major road works, particularly in inner urban areas, was becoming much more critical. The new Belfast City Council, which had a right to be consulted on all road and planning matters, was not happy with the proposed urban motorway. In November 1974 R Travers Morgan and Partners (NI) were appointed by the Department of the Environment to undertake a Review of the Transportation Strategy for the Belfast Urban Area.
The RTM report, produced in 1976, was presented to the Minister of State, at the Department of the Environment and was then the subject of a prolonged public inquiry in 1977. In April 1978 the Department issued a statement, which accepted most of the Inspector's recommendations. The scale of the scheme for the connection between MI and M2 was reduced to dual 2 lane carriageways with an overall width of about 60 feet. The new road was to be depressed, where ground conditions permitted, in order to minimise noise and visual intrusion but it was not to be fully grade separated. Many of the other road proposals were abandoned..
The Belfast Division of the Roads Service under TA Warnock quickly started the detail design of the new proposal, now called "Belfast West Link". The project was divided into five major contracts with several other minor contracts dealing with work such as sewer diversions, sand drains, embankment fill and pedestrian subways. The work was carried out in the period April 1979-March 1983.
The main contractors were Charles Brand, Farrans, Magheralin Quarries, JMJ, J F Owens, R J Maxwell and Graham. The first portion completed was that between the MI at Donegall Road and Grosvenor Road. It was brought into use in February 1981. The whole scheme was open to traffic on 29 March 1983. The omission of the flyovers at Donegall Road and Grosvenor Road has led to serious congestion at these junctions.
Proposals for adding grade separations and widening the inner part of the M1 are now under consideration in 1999.