Thursday, 24 June 2021

Bridge repair behind schedule amid fears of total collapse

THE refurbishment of Whitchurch toll bridge has fallen behind schedule.

THE refurbishment of Whitchurch toll bridge has fallen behind schedule.

Engineers have been forced to reconsider their plans after discovering the 111-year-old structure is at risk of collapse.

The iron bridge, which is owned privately, shut for strengthening at the start of October and is due to re-open next April.

The underside needs to be reinforced with steel girders so that it can cope with the 6,500 vehicles that cross it every day.

The engineers from contractor Birse Civils must take the old bridge apart before they can lay the beams down.

They planned to prop up the metal latticework along each side then remove the roadway in four large sections, which preliminary surveys suggested would be possible.

However, after the bridge shut, they inspected the support pillars more closely and found they were more fragile than they had realised. If they removed large chunks of roadway, the uneven load could bring the entire structure down.

The engineers now plan to remove smaller pieces at evenly-spaced intervals.

Geoff Weir, secretary of the Whitchurch Bridge Company, said he was confident the work would still be finished by the deadline of April 14.

He said: “The intention is to catch up and rejig the programme a bit so it finishes on time. We have to make sure the bridge is safe and isn’t going to collapse in a heap in the river.”

Meanwhile, traders in Goring have complained about losing trade as a result of the bridge closure. Drivers are being diverted via Goring bridge while the Whitchurch crossing is closed and temporary double yellow lines have been painted along the high street to keep traffic flowing.

Traders say drivers are exceeding the 20mph limit because there are no parked cars to avoid.

Jeanne Hunter, who runs gift shop Inspiration, said her takings had fallen by about a third in the past month.

She said: “We’ve lost a lot of customers because they don’t feel happy walking along the street with their kids. Elderly people can’t cross because the cars are going too fast.

“There used to be space for about four cars outside the TSB bank and they acted as a natural obstacle to slow them down.” Martin Dakin, who owns the Village Café, said he had lost about 20 per cent of his trade. He said: “A lot of that is because van and lorry drivers could stop outside and pick up some takeaway food. Now they just drive on. People can no longer stop in Goring without the hassle of finding a car park so footfall and takings are down throughout the village.”

The Goring Gap Business Network has asked Oxfordshire County Council, the highways authority, to remove the double yellow lines outside the bank. If this is not possible, it wants the council to install a temporary pedestrian crossing.

Kevin Bulmer, Goring’s county councillor, said: “Restoring the parking places outside the TSB would create some of the problems we have been trying to avoid. People would park all the way down the street and you would end up with congestion. However, the temporary crossing is an interesting idea. I have asked the council’s highways officers to look into it.”

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