One in 24 local highway bridges can’t carry the heaviest vehicles, councils say

Local authorities identified 3,090 bridges as deficient at the end of last year, the RAC Foundation reported.

This means that they are too weak to be used by 44-tonne trucks.

Many are subject to weight restrictions, while others are under increased weight control or even weight reduction programs.

Councils reported 14 partial collapses during the 2021/22 fiscal year.

They were in the local authority areas of Aberdeenshire, Barnet, County Durham, Lancashire, Nah-Eileanan an Iar, Shropshire, Tower Hamlets, Warwickshire, Conwy and Newport.

Devon has the poorest jumpers with 224, followed by Cheshire East (194), Essex (151), Somerset (128) and Suffolk (119).

Some are substandard because they were built to older design standards, while others have deteriorated with time and use.

Cracks in the pedestals of Hammersmith Bridge, west London, have meant that motor vehicles have been banned from using the 136-year-old cast-iron structure since April 2019.

The total of 3,090 bridges of lower quality than the 3,211 of the previous year.

Among them, local authorities said that ideally 2,506 of its failing bridges would be restored to full carrying capacity.

But budget constraints mean they anticipate only the necessary work to be done on 387 within the next five years.

The analysis was based on data provided by 196 municipalities in response to freedom of information requests and was carried out in partnership with Adept, a group representing heads of local authorities responsible for transport and other sectors.

The bridges included in the investigation range from major structures across estuaries to road sections at least 1.5 meters long that span culverts that carry water under the roadways.

RAC Foundation Director Steve Gooding said: “This latest study shows the scale of the challenge that local authorities are courageously facing to protect the critical road infrastructure we all depend on against the backdrop of enormous funding and resource pressures.

“The numbers illustrate how important it is that significant sums of money are spent to address at least the highest priority work.

“Whether it’s potholes or bridges, councils can continue to fix things for a limited time before bigger cracks literally start to appear in the road network.

“Another key finding of the report is the need for local authorities to have a very accurate inventory of what they are responsible for.

“Attention to detail is critical in what, by any road user’s reckoning, should be considered critical infrastructure.”

Kevin Dentith, Vice President of Adept’s National Bridge Group, said: “Bridge owners have shown in the data an aspiration to reduce the number of substandard bridges by 81%.

“The data suggests that achieving this will require £918m of government funding, but there is currently a skills shortage of senior engineers capable of taking on this work that will also need to be addressed.”

Cllr David Renard, Transport Spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “Bridges, whether for railways, local roads or motorways, are a vital part of our transport infrastructure connecting communities and businesses.

“Not all bridges are the responsibility of councils, but for those that are, they are doing everything they can to ensure they are well-maintained and withstand extreme weather conditions, like the ones communities have been experiencing for much of the last few months. . However, this is becoming increasingly challenging in the face of a backlog of almost £12bn for our local roads to measure up to.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said: “The Government is providing more than £5 billion of investment in this Parliament to local authorities across England to support the maintenance of their local road infrastructure, including bridge repairs and the resurfacing of highways to and through the country.”


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