Last week, residents attended a public meeting to discuss our detailed plans for much needed work on junction 18 of the A47/A15 - including the replacement of the footbridges with pedestrian crossings, writes leader of Peterborough City Council John Holdich.
I attended a meeting for councillors and key stakeholders the week before and saw the state that the bridge is in and the plans for the proposed works. I’ve also had a number of conversations with people and have listened to what the public have said.
The proposed scheme was scrutinised and agreed by Council as part of the Local Transport Plan which was adopted last year.
Subsequently, a £5.5million budget for these works, including the removal of bridges, was agreed as part of the 2017/18 budget by Council in March.
Put simply, the council is currently not in a financial position to build new replacement bridges - the cost of which has increased because there are a number of structures that span several sections of road.
The network of bridges need to be replaced because they are nearing the end of their life. This is because it’s becoming increasingly expensive and therefore uneconomical to repair them. For instance, a couple of years ago we spent £150,000 to wrap the bridge piers in kevlar and over the past 10 years we’ve spent around £600,000 in repairs.
However, it is clear there has been a very strong public response to the publication of the detailed scheme. In addition, I welcome the call-in from councillors as this allows for additional scrutiny of the plans.
To that end, we are now looking at another temporary option. Part of the cost of our proposed scheme is to demolish the footbridges.
We are now investigating whether this part of the scheme’s budget could instead be used to make significant repairs to the bridges to keep them in operation for the next few years. I must stress that this would only be a short term solution as the bridges will have to be replaced at some point in the future - and it’s a more costly option.
If, following investigation, we are able to extend the bridges’ life we would then use that extra time to try and identify external funding opportunities to pay for replacement footbridges.
However, if we are unable to extend the bridges’ life we would likely go ahead with the scheme that we are currently consulting on. This wouldn’t prevent bridges being constructed in the future and we would commit to try and identify the necessary funding if this were the case.
It’s important to understand that this scheme is not just about the bridges. There are other important elements which are still needed:
1) A significant part of the proposed scheme is to increase capacity for vehicles to accommodate future growth of the city. This includes improving the efficiency of the traffic signals and an additional lane on one section of the roundabout to avoid congestion.
2) Irrespective of whether we are able to replace the footbridges or not - pedestrian crossings will need to be installed. If we do identify funding there would still be a period with no bridges whilst works take place and people would still need to be able to cross the road.
We will try to secure external funding, but replacement bridges would be expensive and we have estimated that if we add these to the proposed scheme it would increase the overall cost from £5.5million to more than £20million.
That indicative figure is based on expert engineering advice and would include additional design work, construction of new structures and additional traffic management, given that the structures span several sections of major roads. We are also required to build in significant contingency costs without detailed designs (which in themselves would incur heavy design costs), which increases the potential cost significantly.
These days, councils have very few easy decisions to make, but I want to personally assure residents that we are listening to their views and will continue to do so.