The number of substandard council-maintained bridges has shot up by more than a third in two years, reaching more than 3,000 across Great Britain, with a price tag of nearly £1bn to bring them back to perfect condition.
The latest RAC Foundation survey, carried out with help from the ADEPT National Bridges Group, found that 3,203 structures over 1.5m in span are not fit to carry the heaviest vehicles now seen on British roads, including lorries of up to 44 tonnes.
This is 4.4% of the approximately 72,000 bridges on the local road network and a 35% rise on the same survey in 2015.
Many of the substandard bridges have weight restrictions. Others will be under programmes of increased monitoring or even managed decline.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: ‘In the face of growing traffic volumes and ageing infrastructure the danger is that without an adequate long-term funding settlement we will see more rather than fewer bridges with weight restrictions, with the backlog bill getting bigger all the time.’
Liz Kirkham, chairman of the ADEPT Bridges Group, said: ‘The figures identified by the RAC Foundation survey present a true picture of the funding backlog our members face.’
She added that the problem is compounded by the skills shortage in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths).
Data was received from 199 of the 207 local highway authorities in England, Scotland and Wales.
Councils said if money was no object, they would ideally want to bring 2,110 bridges back up to standard but budget restrictions mean they only anticipate 416 of these will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.
The one-off cost of bringing all the substandard bridges back up to perfect condition would be around £890m, equivalent to £278,000 per structure.
The ten councils in Britain with the most substandard bridges
LA No of bridges No of substandard bridges % substandard bridges
Slough 36 17 47%
Bristol 140 52 37%
Croydon 11 4 36%
Islington 6 2 3%
Middlesbrough 63 18 29%
Hammersmith & Fulham 4 1 25%
Kensington & Chelsea 4 1 25%
Blackpool 21 5 24%
Conwy 234 51 22%
Bracknell Forest 123 21 17%
The RAC Foundation also received data from the bodies responsible for looking after Britain’s strategic roads.
- Highways England has 12,184 bridges, 166 (1%) are substandard
- Transport Scotland has 2,440 bridges, of which 33 (1%) are substandard
- Welsh Assembly has 1,263 bridges of which 48 (4%) are substandard