old bridge UK

£1.12bn needed to repair 3,000 crumbling bridges, Government allocates £93m

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More than 3,000 substandard road bridges are in use across the UK which are not capable of supporting the heaviest vehicles, according to the RAC Foundation.

While this total is slightly down on last year, it demonstrates the amount of work that still needs to be done to bring the UK’s crumbling road infrastructure up to par.

What progress was made last year is also at risk of reversal because of the pounding the bridges have been taking from the recent flooding and the debris carried along by the current.

Many of the existing substandard bridges are subject to weight restrictions. Others will be under programmes of increased monitoring or even managed decline.

The RAC Foundation carried out its analysis based on FOI responses from 203 of the 210 local highways authorities in Britain. The 3,061 substandard bridges make up 4.3 per cent of the total of 71,505 bridges the 203 councils manage between them.

Devon has the highest number of substandard bridges at 241, followed by Essex (163), Somerset (153) and Cornwall (140).

It is estimated that it will cost the Government around £1.12bn to bring all the substandard bridges back up to perfect condition. Further still, to fully clear the maintenance backlog on all 71,505 bridges will incur a one-time cost £5.55bn.

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. And, as recent storms have demonstrated, our road infrastructure - including bridges - is under attack not just from the ever-growing volume of traffic but from the elements.

“Highway authorities desperately need the money and the engineering expertise to monitor and ensure our highways - our most valuable publicly-owned asset - are properly maintained and kept open for business.”

The Government is taking some action to resolve the problem with today’s announcement that thirty-two local authorities will be awarded a share of £93m to repair roads and bridges. This is less than a tenth of the amount estimated by the RAC Foundation needed to repair all the bridges.

More than £4m of the new funds will go towards critical repairs to New Elvet Bridge in Durham, while £3.7m will help refurbish several steel bridges around Northumberland.

A separate £900,000 fund will be used to support research towards new ways of future proofing roads.

Roads Minister Baroness Vere said: “There is nothing more frustrating than a journey delayed by poor road conditions and this multi million-pound boost will help improve connectivity across the country.

“This investment will not only help local areas to target current pinch points on their roads, but will also harness our world-leading research and innovation capabilities to future proof the next generation of journeys.”

The announcement is part of more than £6.6bn of Government investment between 2015 and 2021 to improve local roads.

David Renard, the Local Government Association’s transport spokesman, said: “This study underlines the chronic need for more investment in local roads. The backlog of repairs on our existing highways infrastructure as a whole currently stands at over £9bn and it would take 10 years to fix.

“Flooding events in recent weeks have shown how vital bridges are in linking together communities and enabling shoppers and local traders to go about their business. They are of critical importance to our national economy.”

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