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Whitebirk Drive looking South in December 2002.

October 2003 saw the 75th anniversary of the opening of a scheme that cost a fortune and took years to complete.

First opened in 1928, by Director General of Roads Sir Henry Maybury, the project was designed to take "through" traffic out of the middle of Blackburn town centre by steering from it east and west around the town's northern rim on a brand-new 4-mile highway.

But when it was officially opened it was almost all only single-carriageway – and that had taken an incredible eight years to complete.

One reason for this was that, to begin with, the road-builders only worked on alternate weeks. They were not ordinary navvies but participants in a scheme designed not just to reduce congestion in Blackburn, but also to take them off the dole.

Apart from the foremen, every worker had been recruited by the Labour Exchange from Blackburn’s unemployed while, for the short stretch of the new road at Whitebirk, which lay within Rishton's boundaries, out-of-work men were engaged from this town.

And though it was initially inexperienced, this army of toilers not only dug and built the road through what was mainly farmland, it also constructed four bridges for it. The one over the railway at Brownhill used to have a plaque, dated 1926, saying: "This bridge was built by men drawn from the unemployed of Blackburn."

Part of the old Whitebirk Road, now off Blakewater Road in December 2002.

Original planning permission was sought from Rishton Urban District Council in 1925 for the construction of the railway bridge over the road at Whitebirk. There were several copies (amended) submitted throughout the year.

But what was also remarkable about the project was its stupendous cost.

The one-carriageway road Sir Henry opened in October, 1928, in relative terms cost more per mile than a modern-day motorway.

The bill was 155,180 – equivalent to 4.23 million in 2001.

And though the Department of Transport contributed half, Blackburn's ratepayers were responsible for the equivalent of 1.94 million nowadays and even those at Rishton had to chip in what would be more than 245,000 in present-day money.

Fully developed into a what the Northern Daily Telegraph, in a report headed "A Costly Venture Described," said would eventually be a "two-way route," the scheme's total bill was 400,000 -- worth 10.91 million in 2001.

But the huge expense of making it reality was evidently thought necessary, both as a job creation scheme and as a vital relief for the effects of the tremendous traffic explosion that Blackburn and the country generally considered they were confronted by.

For as Sir Henry Maybury cut the ribbon at its Yew Tree end to open the Arterial Road, it was reported that since work had begun in 1920, the number of vehicle licences issued in Blackburn had gone up by five times and whereas, before the First World War, there had been 750,000 on the country's highways the total had grown to two million and was rising at a rate of 10 to 12 per cent every year. The effect in Blackburn was that 1,200 a vehicles a day were using the "big road of the future" at Brownhill.

The newest section of Whitebirk Drive, looking towards the M65 motorway in December 2002.

But could its designers have ever imagined that 70 years later, Britain would have more than 30 million car owners and that before the extension of the M65 came to the relief of Brownhill and residents living by the Arterial Road, 29,000 vehicles a day would drive along it?

And, as now, public transport was looked to help ease the traffic strain.

The new road's design incorporated scope for a tramway or light railway to be built on the central reservation between the carriageways in the future "if considered desirable."

In May 1938, A letter was received from the L. M. & S. Railway Company, to the Rishton U. D. C., regarding defacement of the Arterial Road railway Bridge. the matter was referred to the Police.

On the 9th May 1946, The portion of Whitebirk Drive (A6119) running in a northerly direction was classified as a Trunk Road from the 1st April 1946, the Ministry of Transport being solely responsible there for, but who delegated the powers of maintenance and repair to the Rishton U. D. Council.

A letter was submitted from the County Surveyor on the 13th March 1947, enclosing a letter from the Ministry of Transport asking whether the authority were prepared to transfer the delegation for maintenance to the Blackburn Corporation, of the small length of road in the area of this authority. No objection was made to this course by Rishton U. D. C.

The Council granted permission to the County Borough of Blackburn on the 10th July 1947, to lay a trunk gas main along Whitebirk Drive.

In 1982 the upgrading of the A677 and A6119 was evaluated by private consultants on behalf of the Department of Transport. This was in association with the construction of the M65 Motorway from Hyndburn to Whitebirk which was due for completion in 1985, and due to the Department of Transport scrapping the final section of the motorway from Whitebirk to the M6.

Today, the road is the A6119 dual carriageway -- consisting of the four stretches that are Whitebirk Drive (the original Whitebirk road mostly having disappeared under the mighty weigh of B & Q), Brownhill Drive, Ramsgreave Drive and Yew Tree Drive -- but then it was known as the Arterial Road, a name still used by older folk today.

References

Council Minutes

Lancashire Evening Telegraph, Monday 26 October 1998