Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Other Birmingham: Problematic highway exchanges

Fiona contacted me from Birmingham UK with a series of posts contrasting the two Birminghams. She visited our Birmingham and saw many similarities with her own, and wrote a fascinating series of posts on them. She has kindly offered for some of them to be reprinted here - I'm sure you'll find them as intriguing as I did!
By Fiona Cullinan

Malfunction Junction, Birmingham AL

It was while standing on the top of Vulcan The Iron Man (more on Brum and Bham’s high and low-level Iron Men in a future post) that my local host Daniel Walters pointed out Birmingham’s Malfunction Junction.

The busiest intersection in Alabama (260,000 vehicles daily) has been churning through traffic since 1970. Here, Interstates 20, 59 and 65 criss-cross in a pretty four-pronged near-cloverleaf that regularly sees motorists weave across multiple lanes to get onto their desired route (sound familiar, Brummies?).

Hence its rep as a stoopidly regular accident blackspot, the most notorious of which was the explosion of a gas truck in 2002, which killed the driver, damaged the bridge, and required demolition and reconstruction (achieved in just 38 days).

According to the informative Bham Wiki, the junction’s ‘tight turns and short merging distances’ are pretty much to blame. Speed restrictions through Alabama’s Malfunction Junction were imposed in 2007, reducing the limit from 60mph to 50mph, although some consider anything less than 85mph ‘downright sissy’ - check out more Birmingham AL rules of the road.

Spaghetti Junction, Birmingham UK

Aka the Gravelly Hill Interchange where the longest motorway in Britain, the M6, meets the A38(M) Aston Expressway in Birmingham, with a few other A and B-roads, three rivers, three canals and two railways lines thrown into the maze-like mix.

It’s not uncommon to be heading for the high road north to Scotland and suddenly find yourself on the low road south to London instead, such is the confusion of the looping, multi-layered, three-pronged Celtic knot of roads.

‘Spaghetti Junction’ was first named by a local newspaper sub-editor (my old job by the way) after seeing an aerial picture of the directional maze. Other Spaghetti Junctions have since been named around the world but Birmingham’s is the first/best-known.

Maybe it was a 70s thing, but Spaghetti Junction was built at the same time as Malfunction Junction, opening in 1972.

Although it’s a confusing and frustrating concrete jungle to many, it’s actually quite pretty with its forest of supporting pillars and urban concrete curves. It was the subject of a Birmingham Flickrmeet in June 2007.

Spaghetti Junction, © Ted and Jen/Flickr

1 comment:

Mama Hen said...

Wow. I would never make it there. It has taken me 37 years to get our Malfunction Junction figured out. Not really even sure I have though :)

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