TYNESIDE’S iconic High Level Bridge will finally be reopened from May next year – but only to Gateshead-bound public transport, it was revealed last night.
The Grade I-listed bridge, built by Robert Stephenson in 1849, was shut to traffic in March 2005 for safety work which uncovered major repairs were needed to the historic structure.
Now the £30m work by Network Rail is nearly finished, council chiefs have announced the bridge is ready to be re-opened, as long as restrictions of traffic levels and vehicle weights are put in place.
The road deck has been completely resurfaced, while a newly-installed crash barrier means there will only be room on the bridge for taxis and buses travelling southbound.
Transport chiefs yesterday said that before its closure, the High Level was the least busy of the six Tyneside river crossings for cars, carrying 6% of traffic but it was the busiest crossing for public transport, carrying almost half of cross-river bus passengers.
They said the bridge has been strengthened to a level which can accommodate bus traffic and will offer a direct link between Newcastle and Gateshead.
Coun Mike Cookson, Newcastle’s executive member for regeneration, planning and transport, said: “The High Level Bridge is a much-loved local landmark, but sadly it was built to carry horses and carts, and was simply not designed to support 21st century levels of traffic, so to give the bridge a viable future we have decided with our partners that there is no option but to limit the traffic flow across it.
“We want to extend the working life of the bridge for as long as possible, while also protecting this historically and architecturally important site structure while improving public safety. Designating the bridge as public transport link in this way is the ideal way to do this.”
The bridge, which spans 512ft of water, is the first major example of a wrought iron tied arch bridge.
Traffic across the re-opened bridge will be restricted to a speed limit of 20mph and footpaths will also be open to pedestrians and cyclists. The structure will be signposted as a “weak bridge” and will feature electronic measurement equipment to monitor speed and access restrictions.
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Troubled bridge on course to re-open on time
CONTRACTORS are on course to complete a repair job on a troubled £1.5m North-East bridge project before Christmas, highways bosses claimed yesterday.
Work on the new Seven Mile House Bridge over the A1 near Stannington, Northumberland, was halted more than six months ago following the discovery of a construction blunder.
The technical glitch affected the structure’s supporting beams, creating a potential clearance problem between the new bridge and vehicles using the main road below.
Work was at a complete standstill for months as Highways Agency experts tried to come up with the best way of fixing the embarrassing fault.
Eventually the Agency said a solution had been found and work started at the end of July to rectify the problem.