More than 3,000 council-owned bridges in Britain are unable to carry the heaviest vehicles on our roads, says a new report released today.
The estimated cost to bring all the ‘substandard’ bridges back up to perfect condition is £1.12 billion, according to analysis of 2018/19 data by motoring research charity the RAC Foundation.
Many of the structures are currently subject to weight restrictions, while others are under programmes of increased monitoring or even managed decline.
The Government has confirmed today that 32 local authorities will receive part of a £93million fund to improve the condition of some of England’s most damaged local roads.
Bridges over troubled water: More than 3,000 council-owned bridges in Britain are unable to carry the heaviest vehicles on our roads, says a new report
Devon has the highest number of substandard bridges at 241, followed by Essex (163), Somerset (153) and Cornwall (140).
Some are substandard because they were built to earlier design standards, while others have deteriorated through age and use.
Many bridges have been affected by flooding and hit by debris carried along by rivers in recent weeks.
A total of 3,061 bridges under the responsibility of local councils are deemed substandard, though this is an improvement compared to last year.
The RAC Foundation says the figure has fallen by 4.2 per cent over the past 12 months.
Between them, local authorities say they would ideally want to bring 2,084 of them back to full carrying capacity.
10 COUNCILS WITH THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF SUBSTANDARD BRIDGES Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges Devon 2717 241 9% Essex 915 163 18% Somerset 1507 153 10% Cornwall 1009 140 14% Suffolk 1298 126 10% Northumberland 979 102 10% Lancashire 1473 76 5% Aberdeenshire 1311 66 5% Cumbria 1901 66 3% Conwy 286 61 21% Source: RAC Foundation
But budget constraints mean they anticipate that only 359 will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.
The analysis is based on figures provided by 203 of Britain’s 210 local highway authorities, which manage 71,505 bridges.
It was carried out in partnership with Adept, a group representing local authority bosses responsible for transport and other sectors.
Parts of Wool Bridge in Dorset collapsed into the river in January 2018 after falling into a substandard condition
RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding described the conditions of road bridges as a ‘canary-in-a-coal-mine indicator for the health of the highway network as a whole’.
He said: ‘While our survey shows a marginal year-on-year improvement, it still reveals that, while the number of structures highway authorities expect to bring up to standard in the next five years is in the hundreds, the number they’d like to restore to manage traffic demand is in the thousands.
‘The recent closure of a key bridge in Nottingham shows just how bad the traffic impact can be when a structure on a key distributor route is found wanting.’
Sat-nav manufacturer TomTom said the closure of a bridge on the A52 – which is used by tens of thousands of motorists every day – due to corrosion damage made an evening rush-hour more congested than any other city in the world.
It has been partially reopened, but is not expected to be fully operational before the end of the year.
West London’s Hammersmith Bridge has been closed to motor traffic since April 2019 because of cracks in its pedestals.