‘Structural failures’ on bridge shut main road

A MAIN road in and out of Downend has been shut after “structural failures” were found in a bridge that carries thousands of cars a day over the M4.

The A432 Badminton Road has been closed north of the Wick Wick roundabout, near the Willy Wicket pub, after engineers found “accelerated deterioration and cracking” in the concrete.

National Highways, which owns and maintains the bridge, says it does not know how long it will be before the bridge is fully reopened, but expects it to be at least five months before any decision can be made. It has set up an official diversion that adds eight miles to the journey from Downend to Yate.

The closure was announced the day before it took effect on July 12.

Explaining the move, National Highways said: “During the current structural inspection, accelerated deterioration and cracking to the South East underside of the structure was identified. 

“Due to this, National Highways has taken the decision to close the overbridge for safety reasons while a full assessment of the structure is undertaken. 

“Until the investigations and assessments of the bridge are completed, it will remain closed to motorists. Cyclists and pedestrians will be able to use the bridge as normal.”

The agency said it was “not possible to currently give a time frame” for the closure, but a decision on whether to reopen it was not likely to be made until December.

A spokesperson said: “It is rare for National Highways to see structural failures like this, though some components, such as bridge expansion joints, fail from time to time.

“The structure is safe and is not at risk of falling down - we have taken steps to limit traffic travelling on the bridge to avoid causing any further damage while we carry out complex, invasive investigations.

“Many structures have cracks in them for much of their life – this is not unusual. The general approach is to monitor and manage the situation, much as you might monitor a crack in a ceiling. We employ a rigorous inspection regime that has identified sudden and accelerating deterioration. Over time the situation has worsened but nothing in previous inspections indicated any compromise to the structure.”  

Inspection work is taking place from platforms under the bridge, with work on the surface coming later.

National Highways route manager Sean Walsh said: “We fully understand closures are frustrating, but we can reassure drivers that safety is and always will be our top priority.That is why we are carrying out this essential and complex investigation work under a full closure for the safety of those using both the bridge and the M4 below.  

“We would like to apologise in advance for any inconvenience this may cause and ask those travelling in this area to please allow additional time for your journeys.” 

The official diversion is via the B4465 Westerleigh Road to the A46 at Dodington, up to the Cross Hands at Old Sodbury and into Yate on the A432 from the east, adding an extra eight miles to the 4.6 mile journey between the Wick Wick roundabout and the centre of Yate.

However, drivers heading to villages usually accessed via Badminton Road, including Frampton Cotterell and Winterbourne Down, have been finding their own, shorter diversions.

National Highways owns and maintains the bridge but the A432 is part of South Gloucestershire Council’s road network.  

The council has already said it will not reopen the right turn at the Hambrook traffic lights on the Avon Ring Road to give drivers an alternative route.

A statement on its website said: “The right turn at Hambrook lights on the ring road will remain closed, as the arrangements in place are the most efficient way of moving traffic through the junction along the ring road. This was demonstrated during the previous disruption associated with the Bromley Heath Viaduct work.”

The council says it will monitor the road network to identify any areas of congestion “where we may need to intervene” and advised residents to report these 0n 01454 868000 or by email A432bridgeclosure@southglos.gov.uk.

Cabinet member for communities Leigh Ingham said: “The National Highways bridge is a critical part of the South Gloucestershire network, and we will continue to work closely with them to minimise the disruption this work will create.”

The bridge, built in 1966 and made from concrete with steel cables, is inspected every two years, with more in-depth inspections every six.