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New Orwell Bridge protocol to be published in next six weeks, Highways England says

PUBLISHED: 13:33 05 January 2018

The Orwell Bridge in Ipswich was closed for much of the day on Wednesday. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The Orwell Bridge in Ipswich was closed for much of the day on Wednesday. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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A new protocol into Orwell Bridge closures is expected to be published within the next six weeks, Highways England says.

An updated plan for when the bridge needs to be closed in the event of high winds or an accident has been underway since last year, with Highways England reporting in October that the protocol was nearing completion.

Among the measures are expected to be additional diversion routes and more robust communication methods to motorists, while longer term plans are continuing to assess whether cars can use the bridge in high winds or whether additional elements can be added to reduce the impact of the wind.

A Highways England spokeswoman said: “The protocol has been drafted and is being signed off by partner agencies.

“However, the new protocol has been used for the previous two closures and we have received positive feedback.

The Orwell Bridge looked deserted during the closure. Picture: HIGHWAYS ENGLANDThe Orwell Bridge looked deserted during the closure. Picture: HIGHWAYS ENGLAND

“We are also taking forward longer term work by conducting studies into separation of high-sided vehicles, automated closure systems and other long-term solutions.

“We have also ensured that our communications to our customers reach a wider audience.”

Among measures already being used are reducing the length of closure to between junctions 56 and 57 only, rather than between junctions 55 and 58 as previously used, while the bridge now re-opens when winds reach 45mph, rather than 30mph.

Highways England on Wednesday said an assessment on whether cars can use the bridge in strong winds was a “high priority”.

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

It follows Wednesday’s bridge closure for 17 hours due to winds from Storm Eleanor, which left Ipswich gridlocked and journey times significantly increased.

A poll on the Ipswich Star and EADT websites revealed that 81% of more than 1,100 voters felt cars should be allowed to use it.

Terry Baxter, chief executive of Ipswich Central which represents hundreds of businesses in town, said it was vital that the problem was resolved.

“We know from our members that they are affected greatly by the closure of the bridge.

“The worrying thing is how many times it’s happened – every time it does it’s affecting the take for our town, members’ employees getting into work and customers getting into shops, so it is very concerning.”

The Upper Orwell Crossing scheme aims to reduce town traffic, while a northern bypass has also been the subject of long-running debate.


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