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Highways England defends decision to close Orwell Bridge in Ipswich over strong winds despite leaving Ipswich at a standstill

PUBLISHED: 13:44 22 November 2016 | UPDATED: 18:02 22 November 2016

Traffic chaos on Colchester Road in Ipswich due to the closure of the Orwell Bridge.

Traffic chaos on Colchester Road in Ipswich due to the closure of the Orwell Bridge.

Archant

Highways England has defended its decision to close the Orwell Bridge for nearly 12 hours as a result of strong winds - despite the move leaving Ipswich gridlocked throughout the morning.

Traffic chaos on Colchester Road in Ipswich due to the closure of the Orwell Bridge.Traffic chaos on Colchester Road in Ipswich due to the closure of the Orwell Bridge.

Highways England said the road would be closed from 1am, with an anticipated re-opening around 9am, but at 12.37pm it finally tweeted to say the bridge had re-opened.

But with motorists reporting their morning journeys times taking three times longer than normal, questions were raised over how well planned the closure was.

A Highways England spokesman said the Met’s monitoring station on the bridge itself last night recorded winds of 80mph, which prompted them to take the decision alongside Suffolk County Council, Met office and Suffolk police to close the bridge.

“The wind is monitored regularly and we have an electronic Met station on the bridge itself. Readings from elsewhere in the area are also taken before any decision to close the bridge is taken. These electronic readings are looked at constantly,” the spokesman added, although when asked was unable to confirm how regularly it was checked.

Many motorists questioned whether a comprehensive plan had been put in place for the closure.

“The protocol involves communicating with the local authority, police and Met Office, to determine next steps. But wind readings of more than 50 mph do trigger this protocol,” the spokesman said, adding that diversions were put in place and clearly signposted. Operation Stack was also put in place.

Highways England said that speed restrictions on the bridge were not possible as it would be too difficult to enforce and high sided vehicles such as lorries would still be vulnerable to strong winds.

The spokesman added: “Drivers safety is always our priority. We always urge road users to play their part by checking weather forecasts and traffic conditions before they set out and drive with extra care.”

The travel chaos today has prompted fresh calls for a northern bypass to offer an alternative route around Ipswich.

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