New 40mph Orwell Bridge speed limit prevented almost a day's worth of closures and millions of pounds being lost to Ipswich economy in May
New 40mph speed limits in use on the Orwell Bridge near Ipswich during high winds prevented three bridge closures and millions of pounds being lost to the local economy in May, new data has revealed.
Highways England has confirmed that on three occasions in May the new 40mph speed limit was used during winds of 50mph or more that previously would have shut the bridge entirely and diverted thousands of vehicles through Ipswich, gridlocking the town.
On May 3, wind speeds reached 62mph for five-and-a-half hours, before further high winds around 57mph a day later lasting eight hours.
On May 21, a 10-hour closure was prevented during winds of 56mph.
It means the new 40mph vehicle speed limit, introduced in March after £1.5million investment for new signs on the bridge, prevented three closures totalling 23 hours from happening.
Business chiefs estimate that each day the bridge closes costs the Ipswich economy £1m, and usually causes snared up traffic through town.
Simon Amor, head of planning and development with Highways England, said: "Since the completion of the new £1.5million upgrade of the Orwell Bridge in March, the new speed limit of 40mph has been implemented three times, all in May.
"On each occasion, the wind speeds were in excess of 50mph for sustained periods of time, which historically would have meant we would have had to close the bridge for safety reasons, and divert traffic through Ipswich.
"We are really pleased with the results so far and have been able to keep the bridge open, meaning more reliable journeys for drivers, local residents, businesses and hauliers heading to the Port of Felixstowe, and less congestion in Ipswich.
"We will continue to monitor the new arrangements when they are in place."
Highways England is set to update Ipswich Borough councillors on Thursday on progress, but it is expected that the 40mph measure will prevent 80-90 per cent of bridge closures.
Suffolk Chamber of Commerce has been among those to lobby hard for bridge solutions and welcomed the news. But said a plan B was still needed for occasions when it will still need to close.
Spokesman Paul Simon said: “This data backs the efforts of everyone involved in the campaign to persuade Highways England to investigate and then deliver the 40mph scheme over the Orwell Bridge during high winds.
"The three days since March when the bridge didn’t have to close translates directly into a boost for businesses who could receive deliveries and fulfil orders as expected and whose staff could get to and from their workplaces as needed.
“The A14 to and from the Port of Felixstowe is a vital transport link not only for local and regional businesses, but for the national economy as well, not least in delivering the ambitions behind Global Britain.
"When it closes, the disruption in terms of lost business and reputational damage, to both Ipswich and Suffolk is considerable.
“As a result, Suffolk Chamber is still looking to Highways England to work with other agencies to devise and communicate an effective plan B in those circumstances when wind speeds are such that the bridge needs to close. A zero-gridlock approach is vital.”