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DfT Bridge Update On 17 Dec 2020

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

Statements, research reports and guidance about plans for reopening Hammersmith Bridge.

Published 17 December 2020:

Ownership & Responsibility

The bridge was transferred to London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) in 1985. LBHF has a legal duty under Section 41(1) of the Highways Act 1980 to maintain the highway.

Recent Closures

LBHF has taken the following decisions in relation to Hammersmith Bridge, based on its assessment of the safety of the structure:

  • the bridge was closed to motor traffic in April 2019

  • the bridge was closed to pedestrians and cyclists and river traffic was prevented from crossing underneath it on 13 August 2020

Engineering Assessment

Engineers working for LBHF have established that the roller bearings on top of the pedestals which support the bridge’s suspension chains at either end of the bridge have seized. This prevents some necessary movement in the structure and resulted in loading of the cast iron pedestals, which isn’t what they are designed for. This has caused tensile stresses in the pedestals and resulted in some additional micro-fractures appearing in some of the pedestals. It should be noted that micro-fractures have been a feature of the pedestals for quite some time, some potentially dating back to the time of the bridge’s construction, known as casting defects.

The bridge is monitored using an acoustic monitoring system. There was an acoustic event recorded on the north-east pedestal in August 2020 and one of the 13 cracks already in the pedestal was found to have grown. As a result, LBHF, after consulting its engineers, decided to close the bridge to all traffic. The government asked AECOM and fracture mechanics and materials expert, Professor Norman Fleck of Cambridge University to review available information on the condition of the bridge and further investigations and modelling of the bridge have been carried out. Now that we know more about how it behaves, one of the report’s recommendations is that the LBHF should revisit the risk assessment and Case for Continued Safe Operation.

Further discussion will now take place with regards the potential for an updated risk assessment and a possible decision as to whether the bridge can be reopened to pedestrians and cyclists, and the river to river traffic, in limited and controlled circumstances.

The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce

The government wants to see Hammersmith Bridge opened as soon as safely possible, so that – at a minimum – people can cycle and walk across the river and in time return the bridge to full use. A government-led taskforce, chaired by Baroness Vere, was set up by the Department for Transport in September 2020 to work towards the safe reopening of the bridge. The core function of the group is to consider proposals for both long-term repair and short-term temporary measures, and to resolve challenges which stand in the way of reopening of the bridge at the earliest possible opportunity. Public safety is, of course, of the highest priority when considering any re-opening proposal. The taskforce is supported by engineers from DfT and Network Rail plus AECOM as external engineering consultants, while Dana Skelley OBE has been appointed as Project Director to coordinate efforts to get the bridge reopened.

The taskforce is fully aware of the high level of public interest in its work and is grateful for the constructive suggestions which have been forthcoming from both groups and individuals. The taskforce publishes a statement following each meeting.

Proposals For Repairs

The current plan is to repair the bridge in 3 main phases:

  • emergency mitigation

  • stabilisation

  • strengthening

Emergency Mitigation

Emergency mitigation includes removing the ornate cast iron casings from, and blast cleaning, the 2 western pedestals, enabling an assessment of the full extent of the cracks in those 2 pedestals. This work has already been undertaken on the eastern pedestals. These works are being procured by TfL, with agreement from LBHF. The funding of £2.3 million for the works was provided by the government as part of its Extraordinary Funding and Financing package agreed with TfL on 31 October 2020. The work will be completed by April 2021.

Business Case

For the government to contribute towards a project, a business case process has to be followed to ensure value for taxpayers. The business case serves as a basis on which the project can be approved and proceed with appropriate funding in place; it remains a work in progress. The 2 key elements of the business case are:

  • stabilisation: the stage 1 works are estimated to take 11 months and would allow for limited reopening of the bridge to pedestrians and cyclists. The stage 2 works are estimated to take 21 months and would allow for unlimited reopening to pedestrians and cyclists. Following stage 2 works the bridge might have to be closed from time to time to accommodate the strengthening work.

  • strengthening: these works are estimated to take 30 months and would allow the bridge to be reopened to vehicles, including buses.

N.B. Timelines are from the date the works commence and are consecutive not parallel.

Dana Skelley is working with stakeholders to test the programme and identify areas that can be expedited. Funding discussions also remain ongoing.

Temporary Measures

Work on the bridge to enable full and robust reopening for pedestrians and cyclists, vehicular traffic and river traffic will take quite some time. The government is concerned that residents are able to cross the river as soon as possible. Since the bridge closed, TfL has made changes to bus routes and frequency, with route 533 increasing to 6 buses per hour during peak hours, to ensure that alternatives are available to cross the river safely.

The first and quickest option is to put a temporary ferry in place for pedestrians and cyclists, although it is recognised that this does not assist river traffic. As part of the Extraordinary Funding Agreement, TfL committed to run the ferry service using active travel funding, alongside local contributions. TfL has recently commenced public procurement activity for the ferry and services are expected to start in spring 2021. Other temporary crossing proposals are also being considered including those which help with traffic congestion.

River Traffic

The London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has revisited their Case for Continued Safe Operation in regards to river traffic and agreed with the Port of London Authority (PLA) that limited and controlled crossings will be allowed at specific times every Sunday.

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