2 or 3 years before the motorway was completed, I remember going on a primary school trip to Hobbs Cross Farm. I can't remember the details of the day, but I remember seeing the motorway under construction across the Essex countryside. This was the start of my on and off relationship with the motorway as a decade or so later it was part of my route to Hatfield Polytechnic being dropped off/ picked up a few times a year during my HND studies, followed by a degree in civil engineering (the poly having become one of the new universities). Interestingly, I wanted to become a mechanical engineer and design cars, but poor A-level results meant it wasn't going to happen. Luckily, looking through untold prospectuses and visiting a range of institutions had me end up studying the HND!
In the world of work, I used the motorway for my commute. One job had me hop on for just one junction to avoid driving through town and another job saw me tackling the Dartford Crossing twice a day for several years. I wouldn't have been able to take those two jobs if it wasn't for the fact that I could get to them by car. The job across the water would take 2.5 hours by public transport and so at around 40 minutes (notwithstanding the Dartford Crossing), it was a no brainer.
Today, I rarely venture onto the motorway because it is normally an awful experience. Indeed, coming home from a few days on the south coast, we were stuck in a 10 mile traffic jam approaching the Dartford Crossing. Half term. 2.30pm. Yes, I know it's a classic case of "traffic, you are traffic".
As CBRD notes, there are lots of junctions taking local traffic (as I used to do), it was part of a much bigger but unfinished system of ring roads for London and the demand for the road was underestimated from the start which has led to decades of what seems constant widening, tweaking and adjusting. Of course, all of this messing about has not been undertaken in isolation, much is in response to capacity being increased on other strategic roads and motorways. The M25 hasn't been able to keep up and the 10 mile queue yesterday was happening when I used to commute via the Dartford Crossing; this is classic induced demand; we add capacity, it fills up and so on.
I look at the M25 as a case study in UK transport policy. It was (and still is) a big-ticket project built (over time) by Labour and Conservative governments who thought that motoring equalled prosperity and personal freedom. The 30 years since opening has essentially seen more of the same; our National transport policy remains squarely in favour of road-building. Labour's John Prescott did shake things up in 2000, but the backlash led to backsliding and the current government are pushing ahead with a renewed vigour. The approach has failed us over the last 30 years and it will continue to fail.
The M25 has been good to me over the years, but looking back, I can now see the price which has been paid. I wonder if anyone in power can take a deep breath and rethink the mess we've built for ourselves.