Substandard road bridges in Great Britain – 2019 data28 Feb 2020

Little year-on-year change but structures at risk from the weather

The number of substandard road bridges managed by councils across Great Britain has fallen slightly over the past year, RAC Foundation analysis shows.

Local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales have identified 3,061 bridges – defined as structures over 1.5 m in span – as being substandard. This was 4.2% down on the 3,194 figure twelve months earlier.

(The initial number of substandard bridges from the previous year was revised upwards very slightly after more information was received from councils.)

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

However, the progress is under risk of reversal because of the pounding bridges have been taking from the recent flooding and the debris carried along by the current.

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

The RAC Foundation analysis is based on FOI responses from 203 of the 210 local highways authorities in Britain.

The 3,061 substandard bridges make up 4.3% of the total of 71,505 bridges the 203 councils manage between them.

The estimated cost to bring all the substandard bridges back up to perfect condition is £1.12 billion (down fractionally on the £1.17 billion figure of a year earlier).

The study reveals that the one-time cost to clear the maintenance backlog on all 71,505 bridges is an estimated £5.55 billion, down from the previous year’s figure of £6.5 billion.

Between them, councils say they would ideally want to bring 2,084 (68%) of the 3,061 substandard bridges back up to full carrying capacity.

However, budget restrictions mean they anticipate that only 359 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).

Thousands of council-maintained bridges are still being classed as substandard meaning they are closed to some or all traffic.