Bridges, bridges, bridges

Councillor Don Alexander is pictured, smiling, with trees and College Green in the background.
Today’s guest blog is from Councillor Don Alexander, Cabinet Member for transport and Labour Councillor for Avonmouth and Lawrence Weston Ward.

At 5pm today, the newly restored Gaol Ferry Bridge will reopen.

Our £1.5 million investment has saved the much loved structure from being lost. Inspections showed the bridge needed extensive structural work to make it safe after years of under investment in the harbour estate by previous administrations. These were, after all, the first major repairs in almost a century.

To celebrate restoring this vital and busy route, which links south Bristol and Spike Island, Wapping Wharf will be celebrating from 5pm today (Friday 8 September). After the patience of local residents and businesses, events will include live music, offers, and shops open well into the evening.

The repairs have given a new lease of life to this lightweight suspension bridge, which has been doing a lot of heavy lifting over the years as it is such a popular route with pedestrians and cyclists, and the bridge has been carrying more people than it was originally built for.

On top of structural repairs, Gaol Ferry Bridge has been repainted and looks fantastic, although we do have a small number of finishing touches to make. Some temporary decking has been installed in places, after the permanent decking that was being stored at the site was stolen – more has been ordered and will be installed at a later date.

Gaol Ferry Bridge is pictured with trees surrounding it.
Gaol Ferry Bridge

I am thrilled we have safeguarded the bridge for the future, however, there is an ongoing conversation to be had about the longer-term need for another bridge in the area. As we continue to tackle the backlog of repairs that we inherited, and as our city’s population continues to grow, our administration is also looking ahead to future opportunities for a new crossing. The previous administration cancelled plans for one over the New Cut (between the Coronation Road/Camden Road junction and Cumberland Road), despite planning permission and Department for Transport funding being in place. We are now in the process of revisiting those proposals as we look to reassess the business case for a new crossing.

The reopening of Gaol Ferry Bridge has followed the completion of the £3 million refurbishment of Redcliffe Bascule Bridge. I recently had a fascinating tour of the control room and the below water level bascule retraction chamber to see the inner workings of the bridge. With its remaining structural, mechanical and electrical repairs complete, the bascule span can now be lifted for larger boats. The new automation system means lifts can be supervised remotely.

But Gaol Ferry and Redcliffe Bascule bridges are just two in a series of Bristol bridges that need structural repairs. We have secured £16 million from the City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement, administered via the West of England Combined Authority, to restore a total of six bridges that cross the New Cut as part of a rolling programme over the next five years.

In the coming weeks we will be moving our attention to Vauxhall Bridge, which links Southville and Spike Island, and Sparke Evans Park Bridge, which links the Paintworks development with Sparke Evans Park. Both of these footbridges need urgent structural work, and we are looking to close them temporarily later this year so we can assess their condition and design a programme of repairs.

Sparke Evans Bridge is pictured, with trees surrounding it and the park in the background.
Sparke Evans Bridge

Just like Gaol Ferry Bridge, we expect to carry out the repairs using scaffolding and working in a phased approach. More news will follow about these repairs along with signage at the bridges and diversion routes.

Work is also set to start soon on New Brislington Bridge, which will not affect use of the bridge as it will involve a detailed assessment on the condition of the structure. Work to assess the overall condition of St Philips Causeway will also take place in the coming months.

The remaining bridges on our list that we need to repair include Banana Bridge (Langton Street Bridge) and the twin bridges of Bedminster Bridge and Bath Bridge.

It is not only the harbour bridges that are part of our plan, as we’ll be starting work on the restoration of Kingsweston Iron bridge this month.

This will kick off with a detailed inspection of the Grade II listed cast iron footbridge. To do this safely, we will need to close Kings Weston Road on Saturday 16 and possibly Sunday 17 September.

A diversion will be in place, but we know it will cause some disruption over the weekend, so I would like to thank you for your patience in advance.

This is a key step in the project and will help us to plan how the bridge can be dismantled and repaired off-site. Not only will the restoration include repairing the structure, but it will also see us raising the bridge up and adding steps at either end, so it will no longer be at risk of being struck by passing vehicles.

Kingsweston Iron Bridge is pictured, with scaffolding on it.
Kingsweston Iron Bridge

Bridges are vital to our city and have been overlooked for too long; I am proud that our administration is tackling these difficult infrastructure projects to keep Bristol connected.

Speaking of Bristol’s important infrastructure, today will also see the reopening of the Chocolate Path after extensive work to stabilise Cumberland Road and the river retaining wall.

I am delighted this handy walking and cycling route away from road traffic will be open once again for everyone to use, and I will be taking my bike out the first chance I get and enjoying the views along the river.