Bridge maintenance backlog grows07 Jan 2019

£6.7 billion needed to clear workload

The one-off cost of clearing the total maintenance backlog for the near 72,000 council-managed road bridges in Great Britain has increased by a third.

Analysis by the RAC Foundation of data for the 2017-18 financial year shows that an estimated £6.7 billion is needed to carry out all the work that would be required on the tens of thousands of local authority bridges (defined as structures over 1.5m in span).

This is up from £5 billion a year earlier (2016-17).

The study is based on data provided by 200 (out of a total of 207) councils across England, Scotland and Wales.

Between them the 200 councils manage 71,652 bridges, of which 3,177 (4.4% of the total) are categorised as ‘substandard’.

Substandard means unable to carry the heaviest vehicles now seen on our roads, including lorries of up to 44 tonnes.

Many of the substandard bridges are subject to weight restrictions. Others will be under programmes of increased monitoring or even managed decline.

The proportion (4.4%) of substandard bridges is in line with that reported in 2016-17 (4.6% – 3,441 out of 74,005 bridges – based on data from 204 local authorities).

Between them, councils say they would ideally want to bring 2,026 (64%) 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.

The survey of local highways authorities was carried out by the RAC Foundation with the help of the National Bridges Group of ADEPT (the Association of Directors of Environment, Economics, Planning and Transportation).

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

Local Authority Number of bridges* Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Devon     2,712 244 9%
Essex       910 167 18%
Somerset     1,483 160 11%
Cornwall     1,007 140 14%
Suffolk        924 140 15%
Northumberland        972 80 8%
Lancashire     1,469 77 5%
Cumbria     1,911 71 4%
Gloucestershire        962 66 7%
Aberdeenshire     1,293 65 5%

 

*See Notes to Editors for explanation of why the number of bridges managed by Devon and Essex appears significantly less than last year.

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

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Lewisham 34 18 53%
Hammersmith and Fulham 4 2 50%
Bristol 140 52 37%
Islington 7 2 29%
Southend-on-Sea 83 22 27%
Kensington and Chelsea 4 1 25%
Barking and Dagenham 13 3 23%
Bexley 82 18 22%
Conwy 291 63 22%
Sutton 19 4 21%

Note: an earlier version of this table included Blackpool Council as being the LA with the third-highest proportion of substandard bridges. After clarification from the council it has dropped out of the top ten.

A full list of councils is available at the end of this press release, together with top ten tables for England, Scotland and Wales.

Despite the financial pressures, annual expenditure by councils on maintaining bridges rose from an estimated £367 million in 2016-17 to £598 million in 2017-18.

Whilst no local authority manages structures directly technically comparable with the bridge that collapsed in Genoa in August 2018, they do have are a number of so-called post-tensioned (PT) bridges with hidden cables.

These PT bridges require intrusive inspections (Post-Tensioned Special Inspections or PTSIs) that can cost £100,000.

The number of PT bridges that are local-authority managed and how many require inspections:

Local Authorities that have PT bridges Total number of PT bridges Bridges that have had PTSIs in the last 18 years Bridges that require but have not had PTSIs in last 18 years Estimate of funding required for the additional PTSIs
106 605 305 199 £21.4 m

(based on the £15.5 million needed for 144 bridges that we have data for.)

 

The RAC Foundation also asked national roads authorities how their bridges were faring:

Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Highways England 11,067 83 1%
Transport Scotland 2,641 38 1%
Welsh Assembly 1,251 96 8%

 

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.”

Kevin Dentith, chair of the ADEPT National Bridges Group, said:

“Bridge maintenance is about priority. In large rural counties, like my own authority, Devon, there will be structures that on paper fall short of current design standards, however they are never likely to be strengthened because they carry little more traffic than the odd car and tractor.

“However, there is a serious issue around so-called post-tensioned bridges. Whilst these are not directly comparable in technical terms to the bridge that collapsed in Genoa they do require intrusive examination, something many of them will never have had because of a lack of funding, expertise or both.

“Hopefully some of the Department for Transport’s £200 million Challenge Fund set aside for 2019-21 will be used to prioritise this work. We should find out more about how the money will be allocated early in the new year.”

ENDS

Contact:

Philip Gomm – Head of External Communications – RAC Foundation

philip.gomm@racfoundation.org | 020 7747 3445 | 07711 776448 | 020 7389 0601 (ISDN)

Notes to editors:

The RAC Foundation is a transport policy and research organisation that explores the economic, mobility, safety and environmental issues relating to roads and their users.

The Foundation publishes independent and authoritative research with which it promotes informed debate and advocates policy in the interest of the responsible motorist. All the Foundation’s work is available at: www.racfoundation.org

Last year both Devon and Essex councils reported the number of bridges under their management as being significantly higher than this year. This is because last year they used a minimum-span definition of 0.9m. This year they have only reported structures of 1.5m or more in span which is what the RAC Foundation question actually asked. This change in reporting also explains, in part, why the total number of GB bridges under local authority control this year appears slightly less than last year.

GB DATA

This is a link to the table giving substandard bridge data for all councils in Great Britain:

https://www.racfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/RAC_Foundation_Bridge_Maintenance_GB_2017-18.pdf

 

ENGLISH DATA

This is a link to the table giving substandard bridge data for councils in England only:

https://www.racfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/RAC_Foundation_Bridge_Maintenance_Eng_2017-18.pdf

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

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Devon 2,712 244 9%
Essex 910 167 18%
Somerset 1,483 160 11%
Cornwall 1,007 140 14%
Suffolk 924 140 15%
Northumberland 972 80 8%
Lancashire 1,469 77 5%
Cumbria 1,911 71 4%
Gloucestershire 962 66 7%
Cambridgeshire 880 60 7%

The ten councils in England with the highest proportion of substandard bridges are:

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Lewisham 34 18 53%
Hammersmith and Fulham 4 2 50%
Bristol 140 52 37%
Islington 7 2 29%
Southend-on-Sea 83 22 27%
Kensington and Chelsea 4 1 25%
Barking and Dagenham 13 3 23%
Bexley 82 18 22%
Sutton 19 4 21%
Windsor and Maidenhead 84 17 20%

 

SCOTTISH DATA

This is a link to the table giving substandard bridge data for councils in Scotland only:

https://www.racfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/RAC_Foundation_Bridge_Maintenance_Scot_2017-18.pdf

 

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

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Aberdeenshire             1,293 65 5%
Perth and Kinross                845 50 6%
East Ayrshire                381 39 10%
Highland             2,228 39 2%
Argyll & Bute                900 28 3%
Scottish Borders             1,201 26 2%
South Lanarkshire                776 23 3%
Fife                397 16 4%
Moray                372 15 4%
Stirling                315 12 4%

 

The ten councils in Scotland with the highest proportion of substandard bridges are:

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Dundee City 29 3 10%
East Ayrshire 381 39 10%
Perth and Kinross 845 50 6%
East Lothian 189 11 6%
Glasgow City 181 10 6%
Aberdeenshire 1,293 65 5%
Moray 372 15 4%
Fife 397 16 4%
East Renfrewshire 129 5 4%
Stirling 315 12 4%

 

WELSH DATA

This is a link to the table giving substandard bridge data for councils in Wales only:

https://www.racfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/RAC_Foundation_Bridge_Maintenance_Wales_2017-18.pdf

 

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

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Conwy 291 63 22%
Powys 1335 62 5%
Carmarthenshire 799 59 7%
Denbighshire 161 26 16%
Monmouthshire 392 22 6%
Gwynedd 631 17 3%
Rhondda 203 14 7%
Cardiff 112 12 11%
Swansea 182 11 6%
Bridgend 175 9 5%

 

The ten councils in Wales with the highest proportion of substandard bridges are:

Local Authority Number of bridges Number of substandard bridges Proportion of substandard bridges
Conwy 291 63 22%
Denbighshire 161 26 16%
Merthyr Tydfil 37 5 14%
Cardiff 112 12 11%
Caerphilly 117 9 8%
Carmarthenshire 799 59 7%
Rhondda 203 14 7%
Swansea 182 11 6%
Newport 69 4 6%
Monmouthshire 392 22 6%