A14 Orwell Bridge closure plans must be quicker, Highways England told

The A14 Orwell Bridge. Picture: GREGG BROWN

The A14 Orwell Bridge. Picture: GREGG BROWN - Credit: Gregg Brown

Highways England has been ordered to reduce the time taken to plan and communicate measures to reduce disruption caused by Orwell Bridge closures.

At a private meeting yesterday, Suffolk Chamber of Commerce officials demanded improvements over how highways chiefs “identify, communicate and implement solutions to minimise the impact of future closures”, a spokesman told this newspaper.

The A14 bridge, a key route between the Port of Felixstowe and the rest of the country, has been closed three times this month due to strong winds, causing gridlock in Ipswich and surrounding areas. The first closure, which hit morning rush hour commuters, cost the local economy an estimated £1m.

Highways England is considering allowing cars to travel across the bridge in the event of strong winds as a “high priority”. The move could form part of its new protocol into Orwell Bridge closures, expected to be published soon. Automated closures, quicker reopenings, and email notifications are other options.

A spokesman for the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, one of the partners advising on the protocol, said: “Highways England was left in no doubt what is expected from them. Concerns were vigorously expressed about the cumulative impact and costs of recent closures of the Orwell Bridge.

“The meeting was worried about the length of time it was taking for Highways England to identify, communicate and implement solutions to minimise the impact of future closures.

“We expect them to make this a priority and we will be pushing them hard over the next few weeks and beyond.”

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The Orwell Bridge closes for safety reasons when there are forecasts of cross winds of 50mph or gusts of 60mph in an easterly or westerly direction. Ipswich MP Sandy Martin has previously called for more diversions. Felixstowe Road and Woodbridge Road are usually used.

A Highways England spokesman said wind speeds at which the bridge closes have not changed.

He 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 it operating safely and reliably.

“Safety is at the heart of everything Highways England does, and, and we only take the decision to close the Orwell Bridge when it is absolutely essential for safety. The wind speeds at which the bridge needs to close have not changed – there have simply been more severe weather events recently.

“We have worked with our partners to improve how we manage closures at the Orwell Bridge, so that we can keep as much of the surrounding road network open as possible, keep closure times to a minimum, and keep people up to date throughout. Our new protocol for dealing with closures is nearly finished, and we have already implemented several aspects of it.

“Longer term, we are looking at areas like how we could separate high sided vehicles from other traffic, and the potential for new signage systems which would reduce the time needed to implement and remove closures at the bridge when they are required.”