49.1 James Jackson, Emergency Planning Manager of Highways England presented an update on the Orwell Bridge to the Committee. Also in attendance were Councillor P Smart as the Portfolio Holder for Environment & Transport, Sandy Martin MP for Ipswich and Michael Newsham, Integrated Transport Officer.
49.2 Mr Jackson confirmed that an unprecedented detailed aerodynamics study using computer modelling was being undertaken by the University College of London to determine how wind thresholds affected vehicle types at different speeds and directions of travel. The detailed 9 month study would be completed over the summer and would indicate whether the segregation of high sided vehicles off the A14 would be possible while allowing cars to continue during high winds or whether current closure thresholds could be decreased. The study would also indicate whether wind barriers could be installed on the bridge and how high sided traffic could rejoin the diversion route should it fail to adhere to any request to divert off of the main carriageway.
49.3 Work continued with Suffolk Highways to look at signage and alternative diversion routes and a proposal was being put forward to upgrade all the signs. Councillors raised concerns about the impact of air quality when vehicles were diverted through urban areas and the closures of the laybys before and after the bridge for the use of vehicles which had broken down. Mr Jackson said that since the laybys had been coned off, the Police had received a decrease in calls about people intending to harm themselves. Removable barriers at these locations would not be advantageous as vehicles would need to stop on the carriageway in order to open a barrier. Councillor Allen suggested that there be safety advice for members of the public should they break down when crossing the bridge and Mr Jackson said that there were huge areas of carriageway with no refuge bays on the road network but a message could be put on the website to advise what to do in an emergency.
49.4 Councillor Leeder asked when any information or criteria to be taken into consideration would be available from the work with Suffolk County Council on diversion routes or a general update on how improved publicity had helped. Mr Jackson said that the number of closures had increased but positive feedback had been received from the Police and social media. Many channels of information were now being used to publicise potential closures due to weather warnings and any further ideas of channels for communication would be appreciated.
49.5 Councillor Holmes made reference to the considerable noise and pollution disturbances both in and around Ipswich as HGV’s travel the diversion routes through the town and villages especially at night time. Mr Jackson said that the guidelines suggest that where possible dual carriageways were used as alternative routes, away from schools and hospitals but there were not many options although future work could include looking at upgrading the standard of the diversion routes e.g. repairing potholes or loose drains. As the condition of the diversion route roads were the responsibility of SCC Highways any noise issues should be reported through the Highways reporting tool.
49.6 Mr Jackson said that Highways England’s own study about segregating high-sided vehicles, which already happened on the Severn Crossing (between Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire), would require a lot of investment in terms of signs, should it be proposed. Once the results of the UCL study were released it would be known if this would be feasible. Also, the road contractor Kier had undertaken a draft study into whether the bridge was strong enough to be retrofitted with structural add-ons such as wind reflectors and suicide avoidance measures, in respect of additional weight loading.
49.7 Councillor P Smart, in his capacity as Portfolio Holder for Environment and Transport asked what the percentage of traffic using the bridge daily was and Mr Jackson said that around 60,000 vehicles used the bridge daily with around 20% of that being freight, HGV’s or vans, either for or from the Port of Felixstowe or local or regional deliveries. Whether any restriction on bridge use in high winds would be by height or weight restriction was unknown and Mr Jackson offered to come back to the Committee when the results of the UCL study were known. The Chair thanked Mr Jackson for his attendance at the meeting and also to Councillor P Smart, Sandy Martin MP and Mr Newsham for their attendance.