Highways chiefs looking to change rules about closing Orwell Bridge

The Orwell Bridge reopened early after Monday's storm. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Orwell Bridge reopened early after Monday's storm. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

New procedures about closing the Orwell Bridge are still being considered by Highways England – but should be in place soon to ease some of the problems caused when it closes.

That was the promise from the government’s roads agency after Monday’s early-morning closure of the bridge caused major traffic problems in Ipswich.

The bridge was closed for about seven hours from just after midnight through to the height of the town’s rush-hour.

The closure had been announced just before 5pm on Sunday after Highways England were given advice about wind speeds by the Met Office.

It was the fourth closure of the year, and after major problems with closures in January Highways England said it was drawing up new protocols for closure – including leaving the bridge open for cars while closing it to commercial vehicles.

It should have been introduced in February – but the harsh winter especially the arrival of the “Beast from the East” meant officials were concerned with keeping the roads open.

A spokesman for Highways England said: “We are working on the new protocols for closing the bridge and they are due to be introduced in the next few weeks.”

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Monday’s bridge blockade was lifted at 7.30am – after the agency initially said it would remain in place until the afternoon.

The spokesman said: “We were constantly monitoring the weather with a forecaster from the Met Office embedded with our team.

“We were told that the wind would peak at 7am, and when it was clear that it would be safe to open the bridge after then, we did that.”

The protocols will be discussed with other interested parties including Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore and the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce before they are ready to be implemented.

One of the main issues has been ensuring that lorries stay off the bridge if it remains open for cars – and making sure that any car drivers using the bridge in high winds keep to strict speed limits which might be lowered in high winds.

Drivers who used the bridge shortly after it reopened said the effect of the wind still made it difficult to control vehicles at the top of the bridge and that it made them realise why closures were sometimes necessary.