The bridge, which runs over the main Bristol to Taunton railway line, is owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and dates back to 1941. It was built to provide access to the military aeroplane factory during WW2, using emergency wartime powers. The factory later became the Westland site.
Since then the condition has gradually worsened due to the constant vibration from rail and road traffic and has now reached a critical limit.
The weight limit is being introduced because of concerns around the potential risk to road users and users of the Network Rail track below. By reducing the weight of traffic passing over, it is hoped that future deterioration will be minimised.
North Somerset Council is currently in discussions with the MoD over the replacement of the bridge structure, which is likely to cost in the region of £13m. The MoD has already earmarked £7m of the replacement costs which will enable work to start almost immediately on designing and planning for the replacement bridge.
Cllr Elfan Ap Rees, North Somerset Council’s executive member with responsibility for roads said introducing the weight limit was the only option in order to keep the bridge open pending its future replacement.
“While we appreciate this is a busy route used by many heavy vehicles travelling to and from businesses along Winterstoke Road, safety has to come first.
“We have been in discussions with the Ministry of Defence over the replacement of this important structure for some time and are hopeful that a resolution is close at hand. Their allocation of funds in this financial year will enable work to start very soon on finding the long-term solution with a new bridge. However, in the meantime the bridge has some significant defects and we need to reduce the strain placed on it while we negotiate a long-term solution.”
Pedestrians, cyclists and the majority of vehicles using the bridge won’t be affected by the new weight limit. Vehicles over 7.5 tonnes will be diverted along the A370 once the restriction begins.
North Somerset Council is looking to install an automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) system on the bridge to enforce the weight restriction.
To minimise disruption, the council is contacting businesses in the Winterstoke Road area and liaising with bus and coach companies over changes to any routes.