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How far we have come in two years of Orwell Bridge closures debate

PUBLISHED: 19:00 29 October 2018

Traffic on the Orwell Bridge Picture: HIGHWAYS ENGLAND

Traffic on the Orwell Bridge Picture: HIGHWAYS ENGLAND

HIGHWAYS ENGLAND

Highways England undoubtedly has an uphill task when it is faced with both a decision to close the bridge in high winds and how it mitigates the impact of that.

The simple truth is that whenever the bridge must close, that huge volume of traffic must go somewhere, and while Ipswich’s town centre roads were not designed to cope with that traffic – particularly the logistics of so much freight – there is little other alternative.

All of that strengthens the argument for a Northern Bypass – a route which can manage the complexities of keeping so much traffic moving.

And while work on a Northern Bypass business case is ongoing, and any actual groundwork of a route many years off at least, more must be done in the meantime to try and mitigate a bridge closure as much as possible.

Highways England should be acknowledged for its attention to detail on this front.

Heavy traffic along Grafton Way due to the closure of the Orwell bridge.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNHeavy traffic along Grafton Way due to the closure of the Orwell bridge. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

With the topic such an emotive one, and so much scrutiny from ourselves in the media, not to mention the huge knock-on impact on the thousands of homes and businesses in Ipswich, a serious and measured approach is needed.

As much as motorists would love to see the problem solved, there is no quick fix, and it should be remembered just how much work needs to be carried out.

The repercussions of getting this wrong would be devastating – you can only imagine the headlines if a trial to run cars during high winds was rushed and a fatal accident were to happen.

The point is that since December 2016, when question marks were first raised about whether the closure protocol was fit for purpose, a lot of work has gone on.

The Orwell Bridge in Ipswich, which has been the subject of debate over high wind closures Picture: ARCHANTThe Orwell Bridge in Ipswich, which has been the subject of debate over high wind closures Picture: ARCHANT

Clearly, the five closures last year helped move the debate on, but we are now at a point where a full aerodynamic study has been commissioned – probably at a significant cost, a new website launched, and discussions over measures such as wind breaks and cars using the bridge are at the most advanced they have ever been.

That is a good thing, and it is easy to forget how much the conversation has moved on in those two years.

What it needs is continued partnership working between Highways England, Suffolk Highways, town leaders, police and other organisations involved, and continued scrutiny of the issue.

Time spent working out the details now may be frustrating, but it is the answer to how progress moves forward.

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