DRIVERS received some relief from congestion misery this week — but more is on the way.
New Street in Henley re-opened yesterday (Thursday) after sewage pipe works which have caused rush-hour delays of up to an hour were completed ahead of schedule. However, next month Sonning bridge is to be closed for a fortnight – just as Whitchurch Bridge shuts for seven months of repairs.
New Street had been shut since Monday last week when Thames Water contractors began work to replace a 22m stretch of broken sewer pipe.
This caused congestion on all roads leading into the town despite diversion routes being set up.
A Thames Water spokesman said: “We were given until September 27 to get the work done but we didn’t know how long it would take until we got in there and dug down to the pipe.
“The damage wasn’t as bad as we thought and that’s why we only had to replace 22m of piping instead of 80m and finished nine days early. The road has been resurfaced and the council used that opportunity to do some gully cleansing.”
The collapsed sewer was discovered in March and work to prevent flooding was carried out in April. The pipe replacement work was delayed until after Henley Royal Regatta.
During the work, a diversion was in place via King’s Road, Market Place, Gravel Hill, Paradise Road, Deanfield Avenue, Greys Road, Duke Street and Hart Street.
Traffic cones were also put in place to discourage drivers from using Greys Road car park as a short cut through from Gravel Hill.
The Thames Water spokesman said: “The council set up the diversion but we put up extra signage after the first few days, including a flashing sign at Nettlebed roundabout.”
Town councillor David Nimmo Smith, cabinet member for transport on Oxfordshire County Council, lessons would be learned about the effectiveness of the diversions.
He said: “Things didn’t work out as well as people had hoped and it caused problems around the town, especially at Greys Road car park.
“They would have to think it through again for any future works. They may come up with the same solution again but they would certainly think it through.”
Meanwhile, Sonning bridge, a busy commuter route, will be closed to traffic from 9.30am to 4pm every day for two weeks, starting on Monday, October 28.
This is to enable the traffic lights to be upgraded.
The bridge will also be closed for 24 hours a day between Monday, November 4 and Thursday, November 7 as engineers repair the stonework underneath the bridge.
While the bridge is unavailable, the 16,000 cars which use it every day will be forced to go through Henley or Reading instead.
The work is scheduled to be completed by November 11 at the latest and Wokingham Borough Council insists traffic disruption during that time will be minimal.
Keith Baker, executive member for strategic planning and highways, said: “The bridge will still be open at peak times and there will only be a few days in November when it’s totally shut.
“There shouldn’t be bad traffic during peak hours as the traffic will then be controlled using signalling.
“There will be two lots of works on the bridge. One of these is on the bridgework underneath to stop the bridge deteriorating.
“This is when the bridge will be closed 24 hours a day for four days so we can lower the workers down. During this there will be a diversion in place which we are still working out.
“The second is a new system of traffic lights. We are upgrading all old traffic lights in the borough to use the MOVA system, which will operate the lights based on the volume of traffic.”
David Vass, general manager of the Mill at Sonning Theatre, said: “Obviously, the closure will affect us but I guess the work has to be done so we will do our best.
“The bridge will be shut during the day, which has the least effect on us, but when people hear a road is closed they tend to stay away.
“The problem is you have a 16th century with 21st century traffic going over it.
“At last count there were 16,000 cars a day coming over the bridge so it’s not as though there isn’t a demand. If you close it there will be 16,000 more cars going through Henley or Reading.
“We still need to know if we will be able to walk over the bridge during the closures. Some of us live in Sonning and the council can’t say if we can walk over it to get home. They have been very poor in letting us know what’s going on.”
Whitchurch bridge will close on October 3 as a £4 million reconstruction project begins.
The 111-year-old bridge is used by around 5,000 cars every day. A temporary footbridge will be available for pedestrians.
The work to install new load bearing columns is expected to be completed next summer with the bridge re-opening to river traffic in March and motorists in April.
During the work, vehicles will be redirected to the bridge on the B4009 between Goring and Streatley and Caversham Bridge.