Key sections of almost half of the bridges on England’s most used roads are in a “poor” or “very poor” condition, an investigation has found.
A total of 4,000 of the country’s estimated 9,000 bridges – about 45% – on motorways or A-roads show signs of “defects or damage that may significantly affect their capacity”, The Times reports.
A total of 141 bridges rated “very poor” are on parts of the M6 motorway, and a further 90 given the lowest rating were on the M1, 51 on the M62 and 50 on the M5.
Highways England has insisted that a rating of “poor” or “very poor” does not mean a structure is unsafe. But “according to official guidance, sections deemed to be in a very poor condition are at risk of failure”, says The Times.
The road agency “attempted to keep the data secret and released it only after an 18-month freedom of information battle”, adds the paper, which suggests that figures will trigger “concerns about traffic chaos while vital repairs are carried out”.
Separate data released by Transport for London shows that about 200 of the capital’s 500 bridges have sections in poor or very poor repair.
Hammersmith Bridge was closed to motorists in April 2019 when cracks were detected. The suspension bridge – which links the southern part of Hammersmith to Barnes – remained open to pedestrians and cyclists until mid-August last year, but was fully closed after cracks were found to have become worse during a heatwave.
Responding to the newly published data, shadow roads minister Matt Rodda said that the condition of England’s bridges was “a major safety concern”.
The Labour MP added: “Bridges are a critical part of the functioning of any country and it is alarming that so many have fallen into disrepair in the UK.
“The public will rightly have serious doubts about this government’s ability to fulfil new projects that have been promised if they cannot maintain existing infrastructure to even minimum levels.”
Downing Street confirmed in February that 32 local authorities would receive a share of a £93m fund to improve the condition of some of England’s most damaged local roads.
The Daily Mail reported that 3,061 bridges under the responsibility of local councils had been “deemed substandard, though this is an improvement compared to last year”.