As an urban motorway running close to the centre of Scotland's largest city, the M74's 'missing link' was inevitably going to attract controversy. But no one quite expected the rollercoaster of the past few months.
A local public inquiry, which began in late 2003, was called to consider the objections to the scheme and to make a recommendation to ministers. Supporters stressed the strategic advantages to south Glasgow and the west of Scotland. Opponents drew attention to the potentially adverse environmental impact.
The inquiry recommended against proceeding with the road.
In March this year, however, Scotland's transport minister Nicol Stephen overruled its recommendations. He announced that the project would go ahead in time to open in 2008, arguing that the inquiry reporter had not given enough emphasis to the positive aspects of the scheme.
Then, in early May, Friends of the Earth Scotland lodged an appeal in Scotland's Court of Session against the Roads Orders, which could leave plans in limbo at least until early next year (NCE 12 May).
Consultant Gifford had been brought in before the inquiry to provide specialist advice on the design and aesthetics of the complex structures in the scheme, and to act as an expert witness at the public inquiry.
It developed, in more than the usual level of detail, an outline design integrated as far as possible into the environment.
The M74 completion project is estimated to cost between £375M and £500M and would plug the 7.5km gap to the south of Glasgow between the end of the existing M74/A74/M6 north-south corridor and the east-west M8. It would provide south Glasgow and Scotland's manufacturing heartland to the west with a continuous motorway link to London and the Channel Tunnel.
The scheme is also intended to act as a catalyst for urban regeneration. It is being carried out by the Scottish Executive in partnership with Glasgow City Council, South Lanarkshire Council and Renfrewshire Council, with Glasgow City Council appointed agent to the executive and lead designer.
Gifford director Ed Hollinghurst accepts that, without putting the road in a tunnel and at least doubling the cost, 'it's fundamentally difficult completely to mitigate the impact of an urban motorway'.
However, for most of its length the M74 alignment follows the West Coast Main Line (WCML) railway, an existing transport corridor. It passes through or near to large areas of little used or derelict industrial land and the number of residential dwellings directly affected is surprisingly small.
The project partners' aim was to build lasting 'design quality' into its structures. 'A lot of effort along the whole of the Clyde is going into raising the area and the tone, but economic requirements to get things redeveloped tend to be short term, and there's a danger of a missed opportunity, ' says Hollinghurst.
He wants the design to stand the test of time for 50 to 60 years.
Design and development work centred on four key structures which required particular attention because of their potential environmental and visual impact and engineering complexity.
Gifford developed specimen designs in detail to stress the importance of design quality to potential bidders in what is expected, given an eventual go ahead, to be a design and build procurement.
'One of the biggest challenges is to get something of quality through the design and build process within significant engineering and environmental constraints, ' says Hollinghurst.
Design quality is difficult to define, but Hollinghurst says Gifford's approach was to 'design from both ends', considering detail and the wider urban context simultaneously.
The four key structures differ widely in nature, but raise many of the same issues. These include the effect on the views from residential properties, the area's heritage, the need to minimise disruption to existing roads and rail lines, and improving amenities for local communities by landscaping and planting.
Auchenshuggle bridge crosses the Clyde at the south eastern end in a relatively rural setting, where habitats of birds and fish could be affected and where the river bank provides amenities such as the GlasgowEdinburgh cycleway.
Rutherglen Station Bridge spans a junction between the WCML and the Argyle branch line, where the railways enclose a triangle of unused and contaminated land, and passes over Rutherglen station's platforms. Environmental concerns include mitigating the effect on the view from a row of Victorian terraces to the south, and improving conditions on the station platforms where the bridge crosses. Technically the main challenge will be to construct a pier for the bridge on the contaminated triangle with minimum disruption.
Port Eglinton viaduct extends for 600m, over West Street, twin underground railway tunnels, the WCML, the Glasgow to Paisley rail line, and the proposed Cook Street link and City Union line and the four lane Eglinton Street (see box).
The M8/M74 eastbound sliproad at the western end of the M74 provides the opportunity to create a 'gateway' structure marking arrival in Glasgow to motorists travelling along the M8 from the airport. Although quite low level the bridge will be very long because of its high skew.
None of Gifford's designs are cheap. 'The project partners have accepted that what we have recommended is not necessarily the cheapest solution, ' says Hollinghurst. 'The intention is to show the contractor that bog standard is not acceptable.
We believe contractors won't be penalised for spending on quality.' But Hollinghurst adds: 'The question of how the idea of quality is communicated to the design and build contractors, and how to reward the contractor, will be a key issue.'