WHITCHURCH bridge shut for almost seven months of refurbishment yesterday (Thursday).
The toll bridge, which is owned and operated by a private company, needs to be strengthened to cope with growing volumes of traffic.
Contractor Birse Civils will reinforce the underside of the bridge with steel girders and add a waterproof coating to the structure before re-opening it on April 14.
The company has built a temporary footbridge over the river while the work is carried out.
Motorists are being diverted to the nearest alternative bridge in Goring. To ensure traffic keeps moving, temporary parking restrictions will be enforced in the centre of Goring and Whitchurch and there will also be waiting and loading restrictions on the Whitchurch side of the bridge.
Oxfordshire County Council says it may extend these restrictions to other roads if necessary and police will be stationed at Goring bridge to move motorists along if they stop.
Whitchurch Parish Council chairman Harry Butterworth said he was expecting problems in the first few days.
He said: “We just don’t seem to have got the message out that the bridge is closing.You hope it will all go like clockwork but I think there will be a lot of people expecting to cross who suddenly find they’re late for work.
“They are not going to be too happy when they find out their journey will take an extra hour and I’m worried that it’s going to be a bunfight.”
An extra fire engine and ambulance crew are stationed on the Whitchurch side of the river to ensure a fast response if needed.
The 142 bus from Reading to Checkendon via Woodcote, Whitchurch and Goring will continue to run via the diversionary route.
The Boathouse Surgery in Pangbourne, which serves Whitchurch, will run a limited outreach service at the village hall every Tuesday morning.
Motorists who have bought their crossings in bulk using a pre-paid card will still be able to redeem them when the bridge re-opens.
However, the cost per crossing on the pre-paid scheme is to rise from 20p to 29.4p. The 40p cash toll remains unaffected.
The Whitchurch Bridge Company says the refurbishment must be carried out by 2015 in order for the Grade II listed structure to remain safe.