Griffiths, our contractors, started a programme of extensive and urgent repairs to address structural issues with Gaol Ferry Bridge towards the end of August last year.
As the first major refurbishment works in the bridge’s 88-year history, it has been a complex process to plan as each stage of the repairs can only be finalised when the structure is fully revealed.
Now Griffiths are in a better position to see the scale of what repairs are needed. Having removed the decking and started the process of stripping off the paint and corrosion, they were on programme. Unfortunately it has become clear that the bridge is in a worse condition than we had thought.
After nearly a century, the steel work is especially degraded around the southern pier (tower). In some places, it has become paper thin. Without extensive repairs it could fail, as the pictures on this blog show. We cannot let that happen, and remain committed to restoring this ageing infrastructure.
As we now expect the second northern pier to be in a similarly poor state, we have had to revisit the programme and may need to extend the works for an extra three months. This will mean the bridge would be temporarily closed for up to a year overall, provided no other structural issues are uncovered. I am sorry this is not better news. I know this will come as a blow to the thousands of people who use this popular foot and cycle bridge and to the nearby businesses, especially the traders at Wapping Wharf.
The restoration project was originally forecasted to cost in the region of £1 million. We feared this might increase if the bridge needed more repairs than originally expected, and we project that it may now cost around £1.5 million, which however is still within the budget that we had set aside for these vital works.
We are doing all we can to drive the project forward at pace, while ensuring safe working at height above the river. We are pleased to have agreed continued weekend working during sociable hours, as it will help keep the works on track.
Although hugely disappointing, it’s important to keep sight of the fact that without these repairs Gaol Ferry Bridge was on course to being structurally unsound and would have had to close permanently. As a lightweight suspension bridge, it was not originally designed to carry quite the number of people who, up until its temporary closure, used it each day to cross between south Bristol and this part of Spike Island. After we have invested in fixing existing structures, I think it is only right that the city considers the need for another nearby foot and cycle bridge across the New Cut. As Bristol continues to grow, to 550,000 residents by the middle of this century, that would help better distribute the load and relieve the pressure on the 60 metre span of Gaol Ferry Bridge.
In the meantime, we will continue to make sure these essential works are completed in the shortest possible time, and people will need to carry on using the diversion routes across Vauxhall Bridge or Bedminster Bridges. We will continue to support Wapping Wharf traders, making sure they are promoted along the diversion routes as well as supporting them through promotional campaigns. We have previously directed the businesses to where they can find out about rates relief while the bridge is temporarily closed, and will carry on issuing fortnightly briefings about the works and answering any questions they might have.
You can find out more about Gaol Ferry Bridge and these essential works at www.bristol.gov.uk/gaolferrybridge