Building Bridges – A Sorry Tale From the past
The story of the first Severn Bridge is one of incompetent management on the part of the DfT from the start. And the Welsh taxpayer had to meet the cost of the debacle. Consider the following:
The Severn Bridge opened in 1966. Build cost £8million. The Queen described it as “the dawn of a new economic era for South Wales”.
Run as a toll bridge, providing finance for bridge maintenance, its design and build soon revealed major faults with resulting high repair costs.
The Tory government decided to give the bridge back to Freeman Fox, the construction company in the mid 1990’s
But who would finance the deal? The bridge debt had risen to £100million. The answer was the taxpayer, who had to foot the bill so that the, “Severn Crossing” company would be able to sign off the contract for maintaining the bridge.
The subsequent inquiry identified DfT mismanagement.
Freeman Fox had designed and built a revolutionary lightweight box girder bridge which was excellent for light traffic but not heavy use.
A consequence of the bridge design was that the stress load on the boxes increased quickly as the weight of traffic was cubed. And the cube weight transfer would be doubled for dead load compared to live load. That is traffic stopping on the bridge creating massive stress compared to moving traffic. Additional strain would also be placed on the bridge uprights if heavy trucks stopped on the bridge just over an upright.
So lorry convoys were forbidden and traffic jams were to be prevented.
But the DfT placed the toll booths incorrectly forcing a build up of traffic on the bridge at busy times, and they allowed lorry convoys.
When challenged the DfT said that British lorry drivers would never accept a “bridge-master”, a traffic police officer, whose job would be to split up lorry convoys, allowing 5 cars then a lorry, 5 more cars, then a lorry etc.
Just ten years after opening bridge use was first closed then reduced to single lane traffic for extensive periods, resulting in major delays.
Repair costs exceeded £80million, ten times the cost of the build.