Bridge repairs could lead to roadworks
By Rebecca SheppardONE of the most famous and essential landmarks in East Anglia is due its six-yearly check-up – which may eventually result in major roadworks.
By Rebecca Sheppard
ONE of the most famous and essential landmarks in East Anglia is due its six-yearly check-up - which may eventually result in major roadworks.
The inspection of Orwell Bridge - a vital part of one of the busiest routes in the region, the A14 - is being planned for late summer.
The details of the examination have yet to be confirmed as the plans are in their infancy but it will be carried out in two stages, with this year's part involving no roadworks or disruption to traffic.
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The news will come as a relief to commuters and visitors to the region already facing travel chaos with the closure of Ipswich train tunnel between July and September.
The second part of the check-up will take place next year along with any work that needs to be undertaken.
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The Highways Agency decided to split the inspection into phases after the last examination coincided with the bridge's refurbishment and was blighted by traffic chaos as multi-million pound work was carried out.
The volume of traffic travelling across the bridge has increased since then and the planned expansion of Felixstowe port will put further strain on the structure in the future.
A spokesperson for the Highways Agency said: "An in-depth inspection of the A14 Orwell Bridge will be required later this summer.
"The Highways Agency and the contractor had a meeting and it looks like the inspection will be carried out in two segments; one this summer and one next summer.
"The work this summer will not involve any disruption to traffic. Next year there may be some lane closures but that is not going to happen this year.
"Part of the inspection will involve work off the carriageway, the parapets and suspension and that sort of thing."
When the Orwell Bridge was formally opened in 1982 it was estimated that about 11,000 vehicles a day would bypass Ipswich's streets.
But the A14 dual carriageway, which crosses the river at Wherstead, has become much busier over the last 20 years, particularly with lorries headed for Felixstowe port, and river traffic may also have impacted on the structure.
In 1998, the year of the last check-up, the bridge carried up to 50,000 vehicles each day, which had put a strain on the well-known arc.
But since the last principal inspection, an estimated 3,000 vehicles per hour travel over the structure just heading eastbound.
Bob Feltwell, chief executive of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, said there had definitely been an increase in traffic travelling along that "critical" part of the A14 over the last six years.
While he said that planning and scheduling would alleviate any disruption he stressed the effects of the kind of travel chaos seen in 1998.
"It just costs money. There are so many restrictions on the hours that people can drive and work nowadays that it does have an effect on businesses if there are delays."
He added: "We certainly hope the lessons learnt in 1998 will be demonstrated in the best possible solution to the essential work to the Orwell Bridge.
"The chamber is always saying that the access in and around the ports is essential and the A14 is a vital part of that."
ORWELL BRIDGE FACTFILE
n Construction of the bridge started in 1979 and was completed in December 1982.
n The bridge is made up of concrete box girders, allowing for expansion and contraction.
n The length is 1,287 metres and the width 24 metres.
n Pilings were sunk 40 metres into the river bottom. Artificial islands protect the bridge from shipping collision.
n The sections of the bridge meet in a curve - a design feature that seemed almost inconceivable at the time.
n The bridge is both a viaduct and an aqueduct, carrying eight million gallons of water for domestic and industrial use in Ipswich.