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Posted on 11th March 2017
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This BBC news story is a little worrying. It describes how there are thousand of road bridges in England which are not fit to carry the maximum weight (44 ton) lorries (trucks). The result is lots of bridges with weight restrictions, meaning extra cost, inconvenience and delay for lorries, and a huge backlog of repair bills.
I get the feeling that the author of the story, and the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) upon whose report the news story is based, are a little fuzzy about who is to blame for this. Normally local authorities are responsible for the upkeep of roads and bridges, and it seems that they have not been keeping up.
Then I remembered: the UK government decided to increase the maximum weight of lorries on the roads, without any additional funding being allocated to upgrade roads and bridges, and to maintain them thereafter. The initial increase (with restrictions) was reported here, by the Independent in 1993, with the change taking effect from 1994, and most restrictions (e.g. the road-train restriction) being removed in 2001. Here is a House Of Commons Library note about the current regulations, which contains some of the history. Both the Independent story and the House Of Commons Library note state that the change in maximum weights was made on the basis that the per-axle weight would be reduced, thus reducing the damage to roads and bridges. While this gross simplification may be largely true about road damage, it is patently not true about many road-bridges where, depending on the design (basically depending on the length of an unsupported span), the total weight on a span of the bridge (and thus the amount of damage or wear and tear) is dependent upon the total weight of the lorry, not the per-axle weight.
So to summarise, the UK government took an ill-thought-out decision, based on bad science (or more likely no science at all), which dramatically increased damage and wear and tear on road bridges, and not only did they provide no extra funding to local authorities for bridge upgrades and repairs, but during this period introduced budget cuts on local authority spending. I think it is perfectly clear who is responsible for the dreadful state of Britain's road-bridges.