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UK road A38.svg
A38 road
A38 passes under M50.jpg
A38 passing under M50 in Worcestershire
Length (miles) 292
Length (km) 470
Direction South-North
Start Bodmin
Primary destinations* Liskeard
Burton upon Trent
End Mansfield
Roads joined
* Primary destinations as specified by the Department for Transport.

The A38 also known as the Devon Expressway, is a major A-class trunk road in England.

The road runs from Bodmin in Cornwall to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. It is 292 miles (470 km) long, making it the longest A-road entirely in England. It was formerly known as the Leeds - Exeter Trunk Road, when this description also included the A61.

Between Worcester and Birmingham the current A38 follows the line of a Saxon salt road;[1] and between Lichfield and Derby, it includes part of the line of the Roman road, Icknield Street.[2] Prior to the opening of the M5 motorway in the 1960s and 1970s, the A38 formed the main "holiday route" from the Midlands to Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.


Route description


Bodmin to Birmingham

The road starts on the eastern side of Bodmin at a junction with the A30 before traversing the edge of the town to meet the A30 again. It travels through the picturesque Glynn Valley to Dobwalls and Liskeard, which are bypassed by a dual carriageway. The Dobwalls section contains the most sophisticated bat bridge yet constructed in the UK. The A38 continues through the Cornish countryside, bypassing the centre of Saltash and continuing through the Saltash Tunnel. Immediately after the tunnel the River Tamar is crossed using the Tamar Bridge where the route resumes dual carriageway status. The section from Plymouth to Exeter is called the 'Devon Expressway', it forms the southern border of Dartmoor National Park, and serves as a southward extension of the M5 motorway. It is 42 miles (68 km) long and was completed in the early 1970s.[3]

Bat Bridge on the A38 Dobwalls Bypass, Cornwall, UK. (2009)

A junction to the south of Exeter represents a third meeting point of the A38 with the A30, from which point the A38 multiplexes with the M5 before re-emerging from junction 27 near Waterloo Cross, 21 miles (34 km) north of Exeter. From junction 27 the A38 heads north via Wellington, Taunton, Bridgwater and Bristol. From Waterloo Cross to Birmingham, the road is paralleled by the M5, where the A38 has reverted to taking local traffic only. South of Bristol, the road was diverted to cater for an extension of the runway at Bristol International Airport.

From Bristol, it continues north via Gloucester, Tewkesbury, Worcester and Bromsgrove to Birmingham. Between Worcester and Birmingham the A38 followed the line of an identified Saxon Salt road, one of six leading out of Droitwich.[1] At Bromsgrove, it meets the M42 and the B4096 at junction 1 at Lickey End.

A38 Bristol Road running through Bournbrook, Birmingham

It passes through Upper Catshill and meets the M5 at junction 4 near Lydiate Ash. This was the northern end of the M5 for many years in the 1960s, with traffic transferring onto the A38, which was diverted at this point to link with the M5. From here to Edgbaston, the road is mostly dual carriageway. The former single carriageway section through Northfield has recently been replaced by a bypass; however the section between Selly Oak and Bournbrook still has a single carriageway.

In the centre of Birmingham, a section of the road becomes the Aston Expressway A38(M) motorway, running from the north-eastern side of the Inner Ring Road through Aston to the junction with the M6 motorway at Gravelly Hill Interchange, better known as Spaghetti Junction.

Birmingham to Mansfield

From Birmingham the road bypasses Sutton Coldfield and Lichfield, before taking up the route of the Roman road, Ryknild Street,[2] (also spelt Icknield or Rykneld), as far as Derby. At Wychnor, the road crosses the River Trent and enters the district of East Staffordshire. At Barton Turn, near the B5016 junction, the road runs right alongside the Cross Country Route for around 1 mile (1.6 km). This railway line follows the line of the A38 from Derby to Plymouth. From Alrewas to Burton, the path called The Way for the Millennium follows the northbound carriageway.

From Clay Mills, the road passes through the district of South Derbyshire, passing the grade separated junction with the A5132 for Willington. There is the Derby with Burton services at the Burnaston A50 interchange. The road enters the City of Derby borough 12 miles (0.80 km) north of the Littleover interchange. For nearly 4 miles (6.4 km), the A38 forms part of Derby's outer ring road, including three roundabouts: Kingsway (or Grand Canyon) for the A5111; Markeaton for the A52; and Little Eaton (or Abbey Hill) for the A61 and B6179. The section of road between Kingsway roundabout to just north of Markeaton is urban in nature and thus subject to a 40 mph (64 km/h) speed limit.

Originally terminating in Derby at the junction of Babington Lane with St Peter's Street (formerly the A6), The road enters the district of Amber Valley where it passes Drum Hill just north of Little Eaton and is crossed at this point by the Midshires Way and Centenary Way. There is a junction for the B6179 to Ripley and Belper. At Alfreton, there is a grade separated junction (GSJ) with the A61, A615 and B6179. The section from Alfreton to the M1, the Alfreton-South Normanton Bypass, opened as the A615 in the late 1960s. This section has a GSJ with the B600 for Somercotes and the Cotes Park industrial estate, and where it crosses the Nottingham spur of the Midland Main Line it enters the district of Bolsover.

As a 1970s upgrade to the route of the A61 north of Derby (which became the B6179), the A38 bypasses Ripley passing through former opencast mining land, before joining end-on with the former A615 Alfreton bypass at Watchorn Intersection. The road crosses the M1 at junction 28. Into Nottinghamshire, the road bypasses Sutton-in-Ashfield, dropping to a single carriageway configuration of 1980s construction, including multiple traffic light controlled junctions – such as the Mansfield, Ashfield Regeneration Route ("MARR"). The final section of the A38 from Sutton, past King's Mill Hospital into Mansfield is purely urban in nature and is single carriageway, joining the A6009 in Mansfield Town Centre at the end of the route from Cornwall to the North Midlands.


When first designated in 1922, the A38 ran from the centre of Plymouth to Derby.[4] It was later extended west from Plymouth on the former route of the A389 over the Torpoint Ferry to a junction with the A30 at Bodmin. When the Tamar Bridge was opened in 1961, the A38 was rerouted on the former line of the A374, through Tideford, over the new bridge and through Crownhill, joining the old route at Plympton. The old route of the A38, via Torpoint and the centre of Plymouth, was redesignated the A374.

The A38 was extended north from Derby to the M1 motorway and Mansfield in 1977, partly on the former line of the A615.

Road improvements


The Liskeard bypass, stretching for 10 km from the west of Liskeard to Trerulefoot, opened in June 1976.[5] A public inquiry was held for the Dobwalls bypass in February 2005, which was expected to cost £32 million.[6] The bottleneck was removed when the bypass, linking the existing Liskeard bypass to the current single carriageway section through the Glynn Valley opened in the Winter of 2008.[7] A campaign to open this road was started by villagers in Dobwalls in 1930, but planning for building the road was not granted until 2006, the work starting on 15 November that year.[8]

In a separate improvement within the Glynn Valley, the Highways Agency stabilised an 840m section of the road near Bodmin Parkway railway station. The work, which commenced in October 2007, was carried out to sure-up the verge which had been built on an embankment supported by dry stone walling and the root systems of large trees. It was completed in May 2008 seeing the installation of kerbing, road drainage gulleys, safety barriers as well as increasing the verge width to allow for a new surface water drainage system.[9]


The A38 in Devon runs between Tamar Bridge outside Plymouth and junction 31 of the M5, where the motorway ends; this section is known as the Devon Expressway. It then runs concurrently with the M5 until junction 27, where it splits and enters Somerset independent but parallel to the M5.

During the mid 1960s, small sections of the route between Plymouth and Exeter were upgraded to dual carriageway, such as those at Dean Prior and Heathfield. This was followed by the construction of Plympton bypass in 1970-71, with the majority of realignment, such as the Ivybridge and Buckfastleigh bypasses, being completed during 1973-74. The route, now known as the Devon Expressway, was largely complete by 1975, with the final section between Kennford and the M5 opening in 1977, coinciding with the completion of the M5 during the same year. Whilst many of the sections were newly constructed realignments, some sections such as the Ashburton and Kennford bypasses were upgraded from the original 1930s single carriageway bypasses.[10][11] The Parkway, the section of dual carriageway through the suburbs of Plymouth between the Tamar Bridge and Marsh Mills, was constructed in 1983-84, along a route which had been reserved for this road since 1943. This was followed by the construction of a flyover over Marsh Mills roundabout in 1992, providing a non stop route between the Plympton bypass and the Parkway.[10]

The viaducts carrying the A38 over the River Plym, which after the construction of the Marsh Mills flyover became the Exeter bound sliproads, were built in 1969-1970 as part of the Plympton bypass. They were replaced in the 1990s due to suffering from Alkali Silica Reaction,[12] and the project, completed in February 1996 at a cost of £12.25million, involved the world's largest sideways bridge slide at the time for the 410 metres (1,350 ft), 5,500 tonne bridge.[13][14] This required the road to be closed for only 48 hours, which won it an AA National Motoring Award in 1996 for innovation and minimisation of traffic congestion.[15]

Presently, the route between Plymouth and the end of M5 is all dual carriageway, and branded the Devon Expressway, being the primary route that links Plymouth to the rest of the country.

Beyond the end of M5, the road runs concurrently with and as the M5 until junction 27. The original route between Exeter and junction 27 of the M5 (Waterloo Cross) was downgraded to become the B3181 when the M5 was opened in 1977


From Junction 27 to East Brent, the A38 runs broadly parallel to the M5: the junctions 22-27 are mostly spurs connecting to the road and all no further than 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from it. The A38 running around Wellington,_Somerset, through the county seat of Taunton, North Petherton and Highbridge. Beyond Highbridge and junction 22, the road departs the motorway and resumes primary status, going through Winscombe and Lower Langford. This route is the suggested route for accessing the South of Bristol and Bristol International Airport from the South West.

The centre of Bridgwater was a notorious bottle neck on the "holiday route" as traffic from both the A38 and the A39 had to negotiate through the town centre in order to cross the River Parrett. The construction of a new reinforced concrete road bridge, the Blake Bridge, which opened in March 1958 as part of a southern bypass took much of the traffic away from the centre of Bridgwater.[16] The opening of the M5 in 1974 further reduced the traffic pressure. This is complemented by a link road (Western Way) linking the A38 and the A39 north and west of the town respectively.

Much of the A38 through Somerset was built as single carriageway, with some three-lane passing points. However, the construction of the M5 through Somerset, in the early 1970s, led to the building of links between the A38 and the M5 in the form of new roundabouts on the A38 linking into adjacent junctions on the M5. Short sections of the A38 were rebuilt in dual carriageway either side of these new roundabouts, such as junctions, 22, 23, 24 and 25.

Greater Bristol Area

The A38 serves Bristol International Airport to the south west of the city, and enters the city itself at Highridge, along Bedminster Down and into Bedminster. It runs through the Bristol city centre before leaving northwards through Stokes Croft and along Gloucester Road. It runs past Bristol Filton Airport to meet the M5 again at junction 15. Thereafter it runs through Almondsbury and by-passes Thornbury to enter Gloucestershire.

The route south of the city, despite serving the airport, is single carriageway and suffers from heavy volume of traffic at peak times, and congestion along Bedminster Down. Drivers from the south are advised by road signs not to follow the A38 into the city, but to use the A3029 Winterstoke road to enter from the west, as this route has a greater capacity. As part of the "Greater Bristol Strategic Transport Study", a link road is under consideration to the south of Bristol[17]. This is in part due to the congestion at Winterstoke Road and Barrow Gurney[18] (both very busy, especially the latter where the road can only accommodate travelling at one direction at a given time); and the incomplete Bristol Ring Road (A4174).

The route to the north of the city is also very busy: it runs as a single carriageway up to the junction with the A4174 ring road at Filton, and where it runs as Gloucester Road is a busy shopping parade. Beyond the ring road, it runs as a dual carriageway pass Bristol Filton Airport, which contains bases for Royal Mail, Airbus, Rolls Royce and others. Beyond the junction with M5 it runs as a broad single carriageway, again parallel to the M5 in route towards Gloucester.


The A38 was rerouted along the Gloucester Bypass when it was built, and the old route through the city became the A430. In 2007 the Gloucester South Western Bypass opened to traffic,[19] costing £43 million.[20] Though it is numbered A430 and not technically part of the A38, traffic wishing to continue on the A38 on the other side of the city is signed to use the bypass, rather than the existing A38.


The £770,000 Rubery Bypass opened in December 1965.

West Midlands

The Northfield bypass, taking traffic away from the congested town centre opened on 11 April 2007.[21] A bypass of the narrow section from Selly Oak to Bournbrook is under construction.[22]


The Lichfield Eastern Bypass opened in 1972 The £4.1 million Sutton Coldfield Bypass opened in 1974, and the £2.6M Lichfield Eastern Bypass in 1972. The section from Lichfield to Alrewas was dualled in 1958. The £500,000 section from Alrewas to Wychnor Farm near Wychnor Hall, and the £150,000 section from Wychnor Farm to Barton Turn both opened in 1962.

The further section of the route was improved to dual carriageway standard, including the £350,000 2.5 miles (4.0 km) section from Barton Turn (near Barton-under-Needwood) to Branston in February 1964, bypassing Burton upon Trent in June 1967 (costing £2.6M, which stretched from Branston to Clay Mills and actually shortened the route – now the A5121 - by 1 mile (1.6 km)), and in recent years many of the at-grade junctions have been upgraded or stopped-up. Later in June 1968, the section from the Staffordshire boundary at Clay Mills to the proposed Mickleover link was dualled – completing the dual-carriageway from Lichfield to Findern.


In March 1969, the 'Allestree Link Road', from the A6 at Allestree to the former A61 was opened, crossing the River Derwent and Midland Main Line.

Further improvements in the late 1960s and 1970s saw construction of the £5.2M Mickleover bypass to the south-west of Derby opened on 19 February 1975. Although the government had approved the section through Allestree as early as 1974, before the Mickleover bypass had been completed, this section had a lot of objections from nearby residents, delaying its construction (from the A52 to the A6). It was opposed directly by Derby Borough Council and the former Derby Higher Education College. The £17M road was eventually opened on 7 September 1983, known as Queensway. An extension of the A38 northwards, crossing the M1 at Junction 28, and ending in Mansfield was built. The £3M Little Eaton-Holbrook Improvement opened on 3 October 1977.

The £12M 10-mile (16 km) Ripley-Swanwick Bypass was opened by Eric Varley (MP for Chesterfield) on 21 October 1977, although the section from Alfreton to the Hartshay Hill roundabout with the A610 had been opened unofficially since 5 September 1977.


To the east of Junction 28 of the M1, the road used to be the A615 until October 1977. The alignment of this road is relatively modern as the dangerous junction with Berristow Lane was improved to grade-separated in the late 1990s, incorporating access to a busy shopping centre.

Notable locations

Image Name Location Coordinates
Southern end of A38 Bodmin, Cornwall 50°28′53″N 4°41′54″W / 50.4815°N 4.6984°W / 50.4815; -4.6984 (Southern end of A38)
Dobwalls Bypass Cornwall 50°27′37″N 4°31′06″W / 50.460263°N 4.518428°W / 50.460263; -4.518428 (Dobwalls Bypass)
Tamar Bridge Cornwall Devon.jpg Tamar Bridge Cornwall & Devon border 50°24′29″N 4°12′14″W / 50.408107°N 4.203944°W / 50.408107; -4.203944 (Tamar Bridge)
Former southern end of the Cullompton bypass Somerset 50°49′11″N 3°24′30″W / 50.819713°N 3.408288°W / 50.819713; -3.408288 (Cullompton bypass)
Spaghetti Junction Birmingham, West Midlands 52°30′40″N 1°51′58″W / 52.511°N 1.866°W / 52.511; -1.866 (Spaghetti Junction)
Northern end of A38 Mansfield, Nottinghamshire 53°08′37″N 1°12′04″W / 53.1436°N 1.2011°W / 53.1436; -1.2011 (Northern end of A38)

See also



  1. ^ a b Taylor (1979), page 96.
  2. ^ a b Taylor (1979), page 190.
  3. ^ "Motorway Database - A38 Devon Expressway". CBRD. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  4. ^ 1922 road list
  5. ^ "Hansard Roads (South-West)". Hansard. 1974-07-31. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  6. ^ "Bypass plans a major draw.". Europe Intelligence Wire. 2005-02-07. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  7. ^ "Bottleneck Bypassed 40 Years On". BBC News. 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2009-03-18. 
  8. ^ "A38 Dobwalls Bypass". Highways Agency. Retrieved 2007-10-16. 
  9. ^ "A38 Glynn Valley Stabilisation". Highways Agency. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  10. ^ a b "List of Road Bridge Construction Dates". Highways Agency. Retrieved 2009-06-02. 
  11. ^ "Background to Marsh Mills". University of Portsmouth. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 
  12. ^ "(Marsh Mills): Discovering the Problem". University of Portsmouth. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  13. ^ "Hochtief completes biggest bridge slide". Construction News. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  14. ^ "Hochtief slides 400m viaduct into place". Contract Journal. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  15. ^ "A38 Marsh Mills Interchange". Tony Gee and Partners LLP. Retrieved 2009-04-18. 
  16. ^ Fitzhugh (1993), Bridgwater and the River Parrett: in old photographs. Stroud: Alan Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0-7509-0518-2, page 93.
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ [2]
  19. ^ "Road relief as bypass opens soon". BBC News. 2007-04-02. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  20. ^ "New cash secured for city bypass". BBC News. 2005-04-18. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  21. ^ Alison Dayani (2007-04-13). "Relief for drivers as city by-pass opens". Birmingham Mail. Retrieved 2009-03-23. 
  22. ^


  • Taylor, Christopher (1979). Roads & Tracks of Britain. J. M. Dent & Sons. ISBN 0-460-04329-3.

External links


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