Ipswich/Felixstowe: Could speed limit be reduced during high winds to ensure Orwell Bridge can remain open?

Tim Passmore, Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner

Tim Passmore, Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner - Credit: Archant

Highways bosses and politicians are looking at new ways of easing traffic congestion in Ipswich – including holding Felixstowe-bound lorries in stacking areas west of the Orwell Bridge.

A summit meeting between the police, Suffolk County Council, and Highways Agency officials is due to be held within the next few weeks to discuss ways of preventing a repeat of last week’s gridlock in Ipswich after the closure of the bridge.

On Wednesday the bridge was closed for much of the day, bringing the town to a standstill. Another closure overnight on Friday to Saturday caused further inconvenience, although there was not as much traffic on the road.

The summit meeting has been called by Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore who said it was vital to ensure the town was not brought to a halt by the closure of the bridge.

Efforts to reduce the number of accidents on the bridge are already under way. The Highways Agency is planning to introduce a 60mph speed limit, which is likely to be enforced with average speed cameras.

Mr Passmore said he was urging the Agency to consider introducing reduced speed limits, enforced by the cameras, when conditions deteriorated.

He said: “If things are particularly bad on the bridge for whatever reason you could drop the speed limit to 50mph or 40mph. If there are high winds it might be possible to use the bridge with a maximum of 30mph

“That would be better than sitting in a queue in Ipswich going precisely nowhere.”

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One option could be the creation of stacking areas to the west of Ipswich for large lorries heading to Felixstowe when the bridge was closed.

He said the old A12 at Copdock, and the former Bury Road park and ride site in Ipswich could be considered. He also said sites further along the A14 near Stowmarket could be an option.

However this might not be a simple solution – most of the lorries heading to Felixstowe during periods of high winds are not going to the port itself, but independent yards. They are much more difficult to regulate.

County council cabinet member for transport Graham Newman said action was needed.

Some lorries had tried to avoid Ipswich by using the B1078 to get from Needham Market to Wickham Market and then go down the A12.

He said: “There were major problems in Coddenham where the road is totally unsuitable for large lorries like that. We have to look at ways of easing the problem.”

Ipswich council’s scrutiny panel is to look at the problems and draw up a policy to try to ensure the road can remain open.

Conservative councillor George Debman has called for the policy to be drawn up: “Those of us who live and work in the town know how difficult it is when the bridge is closed.

“The town comes to a halt and it really affects business. There must be a way of keeping the bridge open, reducing speeds and ensuring HGVs remain in the outside lane.”

Business leaders warned that regular closures of the bridge were damaging the economy of the whole county.

John Dugmore, chief executive of the Suffolk and Ipswich Chamber of Commerce, said: “With the horrendous weather the effect on business has been a major challenge.

“The closure of the Orwell Bridge does cause major frustrations and inconvenience both to businesses moving freight and to those operating in Ipswich.

“If climate change means we will see the bridge closed more often then business will want to see options considered for improving the situation.”

He added. “Those options must have the support of business if they are to be implemented and make a difference.”