Over 3,000 bridges in use across the UK have been classed as substandard, and not capable of supporting the heaviest vehicles, according to the RAC Foundation, reports Engineering & Technology. Of the £1.12bn needed to repair them, the government has allocated £93m.
The figure is slightly down on 2019, but it shows how much work is needed to bring the UK’s suffering road infrastructure back up to standard. Also, any progress made in the last year has been at risk of being undone due to recent flooding causing extra wear and tear to the bridges.
The RAC Foundation found that the 3,061 bridges make up 4.3 per cent of the 71,505 bridges managed by 203 local highway authorities. Devon has the highest number of substandard bridges at 241, followed by Essex (163), Somerset (153) and Cornwall (140).
Costs to bring the bridges back to the perfect condition have been estimated at £1.12bn, but to clear the backlog of maintenance needed on all 71,505 bridges will 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 £93m from the government, less than a tenth of what the RAC Foundation estimate for the essential bridge repairs, is to be shared between 32 local authorities for bridge and road repairs. Over £4m of the fund will be going 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.”
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.”
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