More than 3,000 roads bridges at risk


March 02, 2020 – The number of substandard road bridges managed by councils across Great Britain has fallen slightly over the past year but the crisis remains.

Local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have identified 3,061 bridges – defined as structures over 1.5 metres in span – as being substandard. This was 4.2% down on the 3,194 figure twelve months ago.

The estimated cost to bring all the substandard bridges back up to perfect condition is £1.12bn, down fractionally on the £1.17bn figure of a year ago. And the cost of clearing the maintenance backlog of all bridges is still more than £5.5bn.

However, the progress is under risk of reversal because of the pounding bridges have been taking from the recent flooding and the debris carried along by the current.

Substandard means unable to carry the heaviest vehicles now seen on our roads, including lorries of up to 44 tonnes.

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

The analysis was carried out by the RAC Foundation and is based on Freedom of Information responses from 203 of the 210 local highways authorities in Britain.

The publication of the analysis coincides with an announcement from the Department for Transport of £93m in funding for spending on local roads and bridges.

The 3,061 substandard bridges make up 4.3% of the total of 71,505 bridges that the 203 councils manage between them.

The study reveals that the one-time cost to clear the maintenance backlog on all 71,505 bridges is £5.55bn, down from the previous year’s figure of £6.5bn.

Between them, councils say they would ideally want to bring 2,084 (68%) of the 3,061 substandard bridges back up to full carrying capacity. However, budget restrictions mean they anticipate that only 359 of these will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.

The survey of local highways authorities was carried out by the RAC Foundation with the help of the National Bridges Group of ADEPT (the Association of Directors of Environment, Economics, Planning and Transportation).

The 10 councils in Britain with the highest number of substandard bridges are:

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%

The 10 councils in Britain with the highest proportion of substandard bridges are:

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Islington 12 8 67%
Hammersmith & Fulham 4 2 50%
Blackpool 21 9 43%
Bristol 140 52 37%
Kingston upon Hull 77 28 36%
Brent 40 14 35%
Southend-on-Sea 64 22 34%
Kingston upon Thames 11 3 27%
Southampton 22 6 27%
Kensington & Chelsea 4 1 25%

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “The condition of the bridges that carry our roads is a canary-in-a-coal-mine indicator for the health of the highway network as a whole. 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.”




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