When will Highways England commit to action on the Orwell Bridge?
PUBLISHED: 05:31 30 January 2020
With a northern bypass for Ipswich on the rocks, pressure is mounting on Highways England to deliver solutions which reduce wind-enforced Orwell Bridge closures. Today, we put five urgent questions to the organisation.
Organisations representing business and leisure organisations in the town have warned that without clear action to improve the bridge, the town risks grinding to a halt.
Ipswich Central chairman Terry Baxter warned: "Whatever decision comes through on the northern bypass it still leaves the issue of Ipswich being held to ransom by the Orwell bridge
"That's something we cannot tolerate if it's going to continue to be closed or interrupted by accidents or adverse weather.
"We have had the three bridges [Upper Orwell Crossings] knocked off the agenda and it could be that the county council will go down the road not to progress the northern bypass any further.
"There has to be more urgent focus on the improvements to the Orwell Bridge.
"We have had the pre-report from Highways England, it's taken two years to get the report, and we need to make sure we are not waiting another two years for solutions. It's about getting that implemented as soon as possible - we owe it to the people of Ipswich who live and work in the town to come up with a solution to this."
"Certainly businesses have had to put up with employees to making it into work when the bridge is closed, and there is no doubt some businesses are having to look at other ways with how their employees get on with their day to day [like home working].
"For some that is entirely practical but if you run a business in the high street it's different.
"It's really important we don't lose focus on the fact that town centres are about interaction and we need people to be able to get in and out efficiently.
"There is a will between all Ipswich Vision partners to make getting around Ipswich town centre easier."
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Ipswich Vision Partnership chairman Terry Hunt added:"The recent paper was disappointing in its apparent lack of urgency and I implore them to get on with this work, and to come back as quickly as humanly possible with some proposals that can be implemented quickly, because that will make such a difference to the traffic problems that are all too regular around Ipswich."
Today we publish a list of questions the government agency needs to address in this evening's meeting if it is to gain the confidence of motorists and Ipswich residents.
1) What will you do to ensure that cars, at least, can continue to use the Orwell Bridge in high winds?
We are told that it is large lorries, particularly high-sided vehicles that are empty, that are at particular risk from high winds. Why are closures not limited to them?
2) When will you bring in changes to the Orwell Bridge closures?
It was during the winter of 2017/18 that the high number of bridge closures because of high winds became a major issue in the town. Highways England said then it would look at other solutions to the problem. We have still heard nothing about any changes. When will there be action?
3) Have wind-reduction measures like baffles been considered for the Orwell Bridge?
Elsewhere in the UK and other countries special wind-breaks have been put up on some bridges to reduce the impact of high winds. Could they help on the Orwell Bridge? Could they also help to make it less easy for people to fall from the bridge?
4) How high a priority is the Orwell Bridge and the A14 around Ipswich for Highways England?
The lack of action despite several years of concern about the bridge has led many people and local organisations to believe Highways England does not feel there is any urgency or importance in easing Orwell Bridge problems. How can you assure them that you do take the problems seriously?
5) When will you come back to Ipswich to report on progress?
While Highways England's belated appearance at Ipswich Council's scrutiny committee is very welcome, many people will be dubious about its commitment to really carry out action - so the area would like to know when it will be returning to follow-up this appearance.