Why the number of 'substandard' bridges is rising

The number of bridges that cannot carry the heaviest vehicles on our roads is increasing, as new figures show.

According to the RAC Foundation, a non-profit motor vehicle research organization, around 3,105 British-owned bridges were inferior in quality as of October 2020.

That is 50 more than last year.

Many of these bridges are subject to weight restrictions, while other programs are subject to increased surveillance or even managed decline.

Cracks in the bases of Hammersmith Bridge in west London resulted in motor vehicles being banned from using the 133-year-old cast iron structure in April 2019. It continued to deteriorate during a heat wave and closed to all users in August 2020, causing an interruption in cruises across the Thames.

The partial closure of the A52 Clifton Bridge over the River Trent in Nottingham in February 2020 also caused traffic chaos.

The councils reported that 10 bridges across the UK had completely collapsed in the past 12 months, with 30 partially collapsing. Of the 10 full breakdowns, seven were in Aberdeenshire while Dumfries and Galloway, Caerphilly and Derbyshire had one each.

Despite these failures, the research shows that the number of bridges receiving an initial cleaning rating for damage caused by river flows has decreased by nine percent from the previous year.

Between them, the councils are responsible for the maintenance of 71,656 bridges, which means that 4.3 percent are inferior.

Devon has the highest number of low-quality bridges at 233, followed by Essex (165), Somerset (153) and Cornwall (139). Some are inferior because they were built to previous design standards while others have deteriorated with age and use.

Many bridges have been ravaged by floods this month and hit by debris carried away by rivers.

The local authorities say that ideally they want 2,256 bridges to be fully utilized again. However, due to budget constraints, they estimate that only 392 will be doing the required work within the next five years.

The analysis was based on data provided by 199 councils in response to freedom of information requests and was carried out in collaboration with Adept, a group of representatives from local authorities in charge of transport and other sectors.

Steve Gooding, Director of the RAC Foundation said: “We may not be at the stage where London Bridge fell as the nursery rhyme described it, but several other bridges across the country have partially or completely collapsed.

“At the same time, there has been a worrying decrease in the number of inspections conducted to investigate the damage caused by rivers and the debris they cause on bridges below the waterline.

“This saves trouble for the future, as our weather becomes more extreme and the volume of traffic increases again after the Covid-19 restrictions.”

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