£6.7 billion needed to clear road bridges backlog

The cost of clearing the maintenance backlog for council-managed bridges in the UK has increased by a third to £6.7 billion in the past year, according to the RAC Foundation.

Up from £5 billion a year earlier, the findings of the study are based on data provided by 200 councils across England, Scotland and Wales, who collectively manage 71,652 bridges, of which 3,177 (4.4 per cent of the total) are categorised as ‘substandard’. There are bridges deemed unable to carry the heaviest vehicles now seen on our roads, including lorries of up to 44 tonnes.

Between them, councils say they would ideally want to bring 2,026 (64 per cent) of the 3,177 substandard bridges back up to full carrying capacity. However, budget restrictions mean they anticipate that only 343 of these will have the necessary work carried out on them within the next five years.

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Establishing the condition of our highway bridges provides a litmus test for the condition of our road network more generally, and the condition is worrying. While we should draw some comfort from the good knowledge highway authorities have about the strength and structural integrity of their bridges, the fact is that many thousands are subject to enhanced monitoring, speed and weight restrictions, and the cost of bringing them up to scratch is continuing to mount.

“Ancient bridges on rural back roads might not be the highest priority for repair, but the risk we run is that sub-standard structures on some roads result in heavier vehicles having to make lengthy detours.”

Martin Tett, Transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “This survey underlines the chronic need for more investment in existing local roads. The government is spending 52 times more on maintaining our national roads – which make up just three per cent of all roads – than on local roads, which are controlled by councils and make up 97 per cent of England’s road network.

“While the extra one-off £420 million funding announced in the Budget will help, only long-term, consistent and fairer government investment in local road maintenance can allow councils to embark on the widespread improvement of our roads and bridges that is desperately needed. The LGA has been calling on the government to annually reinvest a portion of existing fuel duty into local road maintenance which would generate much needed funding for councils to spend on addressing the £9.3 billion roads repair backlog which would give all road users better roads that are safer and more resilient to constant use.”

The ten councils in Britain with the highest number of substandard bridges are:

Devon (2,712); Essex (910); Somerset (1,483); Cornwall (1,007); Suffolk (924); Northumberland (972); Lancashire (1,469); Cumbria (1,911); Gloucestershire (962) and Aberdeenshire (1,293).

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