More than 3,000 road bridges in the UK are “substandard”, according to new analysis carried out by the RAC Foundation. The news comes after weeks of inclement weather caused widespread flooding, and the government has revealed a £93 million fund to fix bridges and roads up and down the country.
The data published by the RAC Foundation showed 3,061 road bridges in Great Britain are deemed “substandard”, meaning they cannot cope with the heaviest vehicles on the road. And in total, the organisation says the cost of bringing those bridges up to scratch stands at £1.12 billion. Fixing all 71,505 council-managed bridges, meanwhile, would cost £5.55 billion.
Although those figures, which were revealed through Freedom of Information requests, are lower than they were 12 months ago, the RAC Foundation says recent weather has put progress at “risk of reversal”. The organisation claims bridges will have taken a “pounding” from the recent flooding and the debris carried along by the current. At the same time, the foundation says many of the existing substandard bridges are subject to weight restrictions, while others will be under programmes of increased monitoring or even managed decline.
The RAC Foundation says councils would “ideally” want to bring 2,084 (68 percent) of the 3,061 substandard bridges back up to full carrying capacity. However, budget restrictions mean they anticipate only 359 of these will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.
Steve Gooding, the director of the RAC Foundation, said the figures showed just how much investment is needed in our road networks.
“The condition of the bridges that carry our roads is 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.”
Meanwhile Councillor David Renard, the transport spokesman for the Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, said the findings highlighted the need for investment from central government.
“This study underlines the chronic need for more investment in local roads,” he said. “The backlog of repairs on our existing highways infrastructure as a whole currently stands at over £9 billion and it would take 10 years to fix. Flooding events in recent weeks have shown how vital bridges are in linking together communities and enabling shoppers and local traders to go about their business and they are of critical importance to our national economy.
“Long-term investment would allow councils to ensure that our roads and highways infrastructure continue to connect our businesses and communities. We are calling on the government to use the Budget to reinvest the equivalent of two pence per litre of existing fuel duty into local roads maintenance, which would generate £1 billion a year for councils to spend on making our roads and bridges more resilient to extremes of weather and day-to-day use.”