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Could windbreaks end misery of Orwell Bridge closures – and tragedies?

PUBLISHED: 17:40 30 January 2018 | UPDATED: 13:59 31 January 2018

Could windbreaks be installed on the Orwell Bridge? Picture: GREGG BROWN

Could windbreaks be installed on the Orwell Bridge? Picture: GREGG BROWN

Highways England is looking at installing windbreaks on the Orwell Bridge in a bid to keep it open in higher winds – and reduce the risk of suicides.

Presenter Rob Bell at the Viaduc de Millau - the windbreaks can clearly be seen. Picture: CHANNEL FIVEPresenter Rob Bell at the Viaduc de Millau - the windbreaks can clearly be seen. Picture: CHANNEL FIVE

A spokesman for the government agency has confirmed that its experts are looking at the possibility after three closures this month because of high winds.

He said: “A feasibility study is currently being carried out to see if it would be possible to install windbreak barriers on the Orwell Bridge.

“Once we have reviewed the conclusions of the study, we will be able to keep people informed about potential next steps.”

He said the wind breaks would double-up as a barrier for people considering using the bridge to commit suicide – the agency has been working with the police and health services to try to find a way of reducing the number of tragedies associated with the structure over recent years.

Highways England was also looking at other ways of keeping the road open, especially for cars, during high winds – the disruption caused by diverting traffic through Ipswich costs millions of pounds.

The spokesman said: “The A14 Orwell Bridge is a vital piece of national infrastructure, both as a bypass for Ipswich and in linking Felixstowe port to the national road network.

“Highways England works tirelessly around the clock to keep the bridge operating safely and reliably, and we only take the decision to close it when it is absolutely essential for safety.

“We understand that bridge closures cause disruption and continue to work on shorter and longer term solutions, including working with our partners to improve how we manage the closures in the shorter term and, longer term, looking at areas like windbreak barriers.”

Windbreaks can be effective on high bridges. They have been installed on the Norman Foster-designed Viaduc de Millau in France, the highest bridge in the world with a pillar of 343 metres high.

That means when the wind reaches 110 kph (68 mph) lorries and caravans are banned and when it reaches 140 kph (87mph) cars are banned – or they would be (the bridge has never been closed for high winds since it opened in 2004).

The windbreaks could clearly be seen when it was featured on a Channel Five documentary The World’s Greatest Bridges last year.

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