Thursday, 30 January 2020

Orwell Bridge 40mph speed limits for high winds in place by next winter, says Highways England

HIghways England were questioned on plans for the Orwell Bridge, Ipswich. Picture: ARCHANT

Reduced speed limits for the Orwell Bridge during high winds are set to be in place by next winter, highways chiefs have pledged.

Gridlocked traffic on Star Lane, Ipswich, during Orwell Bridge closures is a common sight. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN
Simon Amor, head of planning and development at Highways England, told Ipswich Borough Council's scrutiny committee on Thursday that a 40mph speed limit would raise the closure threshold to 70mph winds - instead of the current 50mph winds which force the bridge to be shut.
Crucially, it would have meant that 15 of the 18 wind closures since October 2013 would not have happened.
READ MORE: The long-awaited measures for keeping the Orwell Bridge open
He said: "I think that is the most practical solution. It's relatively straightforward, obviously it needs to be enforceable so we need the police on board, which they appear to be.
"There are also statutory processes - we cannot just put a 40mph speed limit on there, we have to do that legally. We just need to clear that but I am relatively positive that is [achievable]."
Councillor Sandra Gage said the findings of the report was now what was promised. Picture: IBC
It is understood the existing average speed cameras could be used to enforce speed limits.
But while the option of reduced speed limits looks likely for the end of 2020, adding windbreaks to the existing parapets and the ability to separate high-sided vehicles appear to have stalled.
Mr Amor said: "We are looking at the impact of the existing parapets. 
"We have pretty much discounted bolting anything to the existing parapets because the bridge is over a kilometre long, if we put anything on top of the parapets that in itself is a massive structure [which adds weight issues]. 
The Orwell Bridge empty of traffic during high winds. Picture: HIGHWAYS ENGLAND
"What we want to do is see how much shielding the existing parapets can give."
He said separating high-sided vehicles "is not something we would totally discount but it's probably a very unlikely solution to the problems". 
He added: "How you physically do that, separate vehicles out? The police haven't got the resources to do that, Highways England haven't got the resources to do that, where we stack the vehicles, welfare for drivers. 
"It's not quite as simple as it sounds."
Allowing cars to use the bridge during high winds is one of the options being considered. Picture: GREGG BROWN
READ MORE: Reaction to Highways England Orwell Bridge report
Highways England said it understood the frustration motorists in Ipswich had when the bridge closed and that finding a solution remained a "number one priority" for the East of England.
However it urged the public to have faith in the ongoing work, and said the bridge was not an Achilles Heel but an asset for the town.
Councillor Sandra Gage, vice-chairman of the committee raised fears that the town was "no further forward after waiting over 15 months" for the report, with "zero commitments to deliver any improvements".
She added it was "not what we were promised".

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