Almost one in twenty of Wales’ bridges substandard and need fixing or replacing, at a cost of £1.2bn
Almost one in twenty of Wales’ bridges are substandard and need fixing or replacing, according to research by the RAC, with £1.2bn needed to fix them all.
A substandard bridge means one unable to carry the heaviest vehicles now seen on our roads, including lorries of up to 44 tonnes.
The analysis was carried out by the RAC Foundation which submitted FOI requests to 206 local highways authorities across the UK in November 2021.
In terms of bridges maintained by national governments, Wales fared worst, with 104 – 8% of its total – identified as substandard. Only 1% of the bridges looked after by Highways Egland and Transport Scotland were substandard, they said.
In total, 4.8% of the bridges in Wales were substandard. 8% of those under the control of the Welsh Government were substandard and 4% of those under the control of Welsh councils.
£1.2bn would be needed to fix them all – £1,048,769,228 fr all the bridges owned by the Welsh Government and £188,110,834 for all of those owned by local authorities in Wales.
The research also found that of the 17 bridges that had collapsed over the past year across the UK, five were in Denbighshire.
Of the 37 bridges that had partially collapsed, 23 were in Wales. 17 were in Denbighshire, two in Conwy, and one each in Gwynedd, Merton, Newport, and Wrexham.
Conwy had the highest percentage of substandard bridges in Wales, at 20%.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Bridges, as defined by highway engineers, come in all shapes and sizes, from soaring structures that span rivers and cross estuaries, through the many modest bridges designed centuries ago for the horse and cart, right down to those that are little more than culverts carrying water under a carriageway.
“But even the failure of the shortest of these structures could mean a five-foot long gap in the carriageway, and even on relatively minor roads that can still be a headache, causing disruption and possibly a long diversion.
“What the data suggests is that councils have been fighting to hold their ground over the last five years. Whilst the increase in substandard bridges year-on-year is not huge the picture over the last five years looks more like flatlining than sustained improvement, and with the threat of more severe weather events linked to climate change that must be a worry for the overall resilience of our highway network.”
Kevin Dentith, chair of the ADEPT National Bridges Group, said that bridges were an integral part of the highway network but most go unnoticed as they carry us safely over obstacles.
“To manage these assets, many of which are centuries old, requires competent bridge inspectors and engineers to carry out regular assessments and maintenance to ensure they remain fit for purpose,” he said.
“The shortage of experienced and qualified people to undertake these crucial duties is putting a huge strain on the bridges fraternity who are struggling to recruit and often have to resort to ‘growing their own’ through apprentice schemes which are excellent but clearly requires a great deal of time, commitment and training before the staff are proficient to carry out the tasks required.
“The incidence of bridge collapses that lead to personal injury and traffic disruption is thankfully low but unless more engineers and technicians are encouraged to join the industry and highway authorities receive appropriate funding from the Department for Transport we are at risk of seeing a higher number of bridge collapses than those identified in this year’s RAC Foundation survey.”
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.