Workers abseil down the Orwell Bridge to perform the six year full inspection of the bridge back in 2017. Picture: PHIL MORLEY
A group of surveyors carried out vital inspection work on the Orwell Bridge yesterday as they were spotted abseiling down the giant structure.
Specialist roped-access inspectors from the Highways Agency carried out the work at the Suffolk landmark to inspect the bridge's movement.
A spokesman for Highways England East explained they have to survey the bridge due to it expanding in the heat over the summer months.
He said: "The Orwell bridge is 1.3km long and between winter and summer the bridge deck expands in length by 600mm. To cope with the movement of the deck relative to the piers we have support bearings which take this movement."
The support bearings are metal rods which fill gaps within the bridge and act as a flexible, variable filler that help the bridge adapt to temperature changes without distorting the structure.
Most materials expand when they are heated, and contract when they are cooled - and this is the same for the concrete deck and piers of the Orwell Bridge.
He continued: "The work that is in progress at the moment is a very accurate laser survey of the bridge deck and piers. The workers on the bridge are installing brackets which will take survey points for the laser survey.
"The survey will provide us with information on the actual movement of the bridge deck relative to the piers so that we can compare this with the electronic monitoring results on the pier tops."
The Highways Agency say that this routine inspection will assist them in the ongoing management of the bridge, which opened to the public 37 years ago in 1982.
During peak times, up to 60,000 drivers use the bridge each day, which makes the inspections by the highway authority vital to ensure it remains in a good condition and allows them to plan for any future maintenance.
The Orwell Bridge provides a vital transport link for lorries journeying to the Port of Felixstowe - and is known to leave Ipswich gridlocked when it is forced to close due to extreme weather conditions, such as high winds.
There have been calls for a new road for many years, with fears that the town would not be able to cope if the bridge were to close for a long period of time.
A public consultation is to be launched this summer to give decision-makers a formal indication of how strong the support is for a northern bypass.