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Toll bridge just weeks from re-opening
Published 18/08/14

WHITCHURCH Bridge is set to re-open next month following an 11-month refurbishment.

The crossing has been shut since October while being strengthened to cope with the weight of modern traffic.

It was due to re-open in April but the £4.4 million scheme was delayed by problems dismantling it in November and then the floods in January and February.

The private company which owns the 102-year-old toll bridge is expected to name an exact date for the re-opening shortly.

Secretary Geoff Weir thanked residents for their patience, saying: “There was obviously a degree of frustration among locals, especially early this year.

“The road was closed and there was no work going on but this was impossible due to river conditions and most people understood that.

“Since then I think residents have been impressed with the level of activity that has been going on. We’ve received very few complaints about it.”

The company may organise a re-opening ceremony if it can borrow a car from 1902, the year the iron bridge was built.

Mr Weir said: “We’re trying to find somebody who owns one, or at least a car from the Edwardian era. It would be nice if that could be the first to cross it.

“However, we don’t want to delay the re-opening so if that’s not possible we’ll do something low-key and celebrate formally later.

“Our main objective is to get the bridge open as soon as possible because that is what people want.”

The company’s contractor Balfour Beatty has installed new piling and reinforced the underside of the bridge with steel girders.

The white iron lattices on the sides no longer hold it up but have been put back for decorative purposes.

Utility companies are now relaying pipes and cables and the road will then be resurfaced.

Whitchurch Parish Council chairman Harry Butterworth said: “It will take time for residents to get used to the fact that it’s open again because it has been closed for almost a year.

“People are a little bemused at how long it has taken. Some people will be relieved but others won’t like the fact that there’s traffic noise once again.”

When the bridge re-opens, the cost of crossing on a concessionary pre-paid card will rise from 20p to 29.4p.

The 40p cash toll is not yet affected but the company is to review its position later in the month.

Whitchurch resident Graham Morfey has urged the company to reduce the concessionary toll for villagers.He argued the rise was unfair as residents cannot avoid crossing the bridge unless they take a detour through Goring or Caversham.

But Mr Weir said: “We aim to treat all our users equally. We need a certain level of income and a concession for one group means higher tolls for another group. The best thing we can do for all bridge users is to manage our operations efficiently and thus keep the tolls as low as possible for everyone.

“It is unfortunate that there have been delays to the bridge works; these have significantly increased our costs and these will have to be paid for, over time, by bridge users.

“We have taken steps to spread the repayment of debt so as to minimise the short term cash requirement.”

Mr Weir said the cost of a concessionary toll would never increase beyond 75 per cent of the full charge and that the company would invest in improvements if the Government gave permission to increase the cash toll.

Published 18/08/14

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