A14 Orwell Bridge to Ipswich to 'stay open more often' after new speed limit signs installed by Highways England
New electronic signs have been installed on Ipswich's Orwell Bridge which will allow the speed limit to be changed depending on the weather conditions, meaning it can stay open more often during high winds.
Highways England have now completed the vital upgrade to the structure on the A14, which carries up to 60,000 vehicles over the River Orwell every day and is as essential route for many drivers heading to the Port of Felixstowe, after two months of work.
Officials say it means the bridge, which has in previous times had to close due to high winds, will be able to stay open more often by changing the speed limit depending on the conditions.
A Highways England spokesman said the changeable speed limits meant that traffic can continue to safely use the bridge at lower speeds even when it is windy.
The 60mph speed limit will remain in place during low wind, but when wind speeds are predicted to exceed 45mph, up to 60mph, then a new 40mph driving speed limit will be imposed and enforced.
If wind speeds of 60mph or more are predicted, then the bridge will be closed due to the safety risk to motorists.
Martin Fellows, Highways England regional director, said: “Orwell Bridge has vital importance not only for the people living and working in Ipswich, but also for the 4,000 vehicles that go through the International Port of Felixstowe every day."
Mr Fellows said Orwell Bridge is, like other high bridges around the country, 'very exposed' and can be affected by high winds.
“These new upgrades mean that the bridge will be able to remain open more often, meaning more reliable journeys for drivers, local residents, businesses and hauliers on route to the port, and less congestion in town," he added.
"However, it’s vital that motorists respect the speed limits shown on the new electronic signs for their own safety and the safety of others.”
The bridge, which is 43 metres above the river and 1,000m in length, provided a difficult environment for the construction work.
And Highways England's workers faced the added complexity of working at night in sub-zero temperatures throughout January, February and March to deliver the enhancements on time.
The £1.7 million project was backed by the findings of a year-long aerodynamics study of the bridge by City University of London, which concluded that the current wind limit of 60mph for closing the structure is correct for safety.
But he modelling also showed that reducing the speed limit to 40mph during wind speeds of 45-60mph meant the bridge could safely remain open to traffic.
Average speed cameras will be in place on either side of the bridge, and drivers who fail to stick to the speed limit will be referred to Suffolk Police for prosecution.
Assistant Chief Constable of Suffolk Police Simon Megicks said: “I am delighted that the work to upgrade the Orwell Bridge has been completed by Highways England, as any reduction in the number of bridge closures will make a significant difference to traffic in and around Ipswich.
"I’m sure the tangible benefits of these improvements will be obvious to everyone who lives or works in the area, the next time we experience wind speeds between 45-60mph.”
And Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, said he was 'really glad' to see that the work was complete as Orwell Bridge closures had been an issue for the town for 'far too long'.
"It was a big task to put in place the new signage and average speed cameras, but a necessary one to keep the bridge open during periods of high winds," he added.
"In February, I was able to see first-hand the hard work being done by all the mechanics and builders who were working in the evenings to solve this issue and so I want to thank the workers on the bridge.
"For my constituents in Ipswich, this has been a long time coming and I know that some have been frustrated that a solution wasn’t implemented sooner.
"But it is great that we finally have a solution in place which will hopefully see an end to the majority of these closures for the future."
In recent years, revised signage has meant that closures could be made and removed within a 20-minute period - rather than the previous 50 minutes - as well as a new procedure for making and communicating decisions about bridge closures to give motorists advanced warning.
For more information on the project, visit www.highwaysengland.co.uk/orwellbridge.