Spanning the years

During the summer of 1982 the two sides of the River Orwell were finally brought together as the bridge neared completion. Now that landmark is to be marked by a special ceremony on the bridge today.

During the summer of 1982 the two sides of the River Orwell were finally brought together as the bridge neared completion. Now that landmark is to be marked by a special ceremony on the bridge tomorrow. Transport editor PAUL GEATER was a junior reporter who covered the meeting of the two sides of the bridge and recalls the impact the work had on the town.>

WHEN it was decided that Ipswich should have a by-pass around the town, it was clear that the River Orwell was the largest single obstacle.

Several types of bridge - and even a tunnel ­- were considered before the final design was chosen.

Work started in 1979, but bridges as large as that over the Orwell don't get built overnight and it was not until December 1982 that it opened for traffic.

But it was six months earlier than that - in June - that the sections of the bridge first met over the middle of the Orwell.

I was there as a young reporter but my presence sparked a furious row between the main contractors and The Evening Star and my report and the pictures taken by our photographer at the time were not published.

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We were invited on to the bridge by sub-contractors building part of the superstructure to witness what was for them a significant moment.

It was not a good job for someone like me with no head for heights, I can vividly remember walking across a narrow stretch of concrete linking the two sides of the bridge.

When we returned to the office my news editor received a furious phone call from the main construction company telling him that our visit had not been authorised.

Although we had been invited by the sub-contractors, who escorted us during our visit, we were effectively trespassers on the bridge and not covered by any insurance. The decision was taken not to publish the story or pictures.

However pictures taken from the air at the same time clearly show the bridge just days after the initial link was completed, and less than a month later in July 1982 tall ships passed underneath it giving spectacular images in the paper.

Friendly relations were restored between the Star and the main contractors, and later in the year we sponsored the Orwell Bridge half marathon held just days before the bridge, and the southern by-pass, opened to traffic.

TOMORROW'S anniversary is being marked by the Institution of Civil Engineers who will be unveiling a plaque to mark the bridge's 25th birthday.

That will be unveiled by Prof Quentin Leiper, president of the Institution, and the ceremony will be a reunion for many people who were involved in the original construction project.

Highways Agency Structures Manager Roger Chenery said: "The Highways Agency is delighted that the Institute of Civil Engineers has chosen the Orwell's 25th anniversary to mark the skills and dedication of the design and construction team which built this significant structure in the early 1980s.

"The Orwell Bridge is not only a landmark, but it also represents a vital strategic link between the A12 and A14 trunk roads to the south and west, with the east coast ports and tourist destinations of Suffolk.”

Orwell Bridge facts:

The bridge is 1,287 metres long.

It was built by Dutch company Stevin Construction.

It carries 57,000 vehicles a day.

It cost £24 million in 1982 - a fraction of its current value.

The two carriageways are entirely separate structures, each built over a large box.

There are 18 spans, supported by 17 piers.

There is enough room inside the Orwell Bridge to drive two box vans through.

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