Hummersmith and Fulham Council took a “conservative” approach to assessing the safety of the 133-year-old bridge to pedestrians and cyclists in August after a decision was made to stop traffic in April last year, two expert reports said.
An expert hired by the Department of Transportation said the bridge was not “likely” to collapse completely.
As a result, the council was asked on Thursday to “reconsider” the idea of reopening the bridge regionally and diverting river traffic early next year.
The council, however, backtracked this afternoon by commenting that the government has refused to take legal responsibility for allowing the bridge to be partially reopened in this situation – and that progress is being hampered by “political interference”.
Council leader Steve Cowan said that if the bridge had collapsed, experts feared it would have been a “national disaster.”
Today’s official announcement further states that plans are afoot to launch a ferry service around Easter if the risk of damage to the bridge’s cast iron structure worsens or if it is closed again in a short notice.
Transport Minister Barnes Verry, who is chairing a task force to reopen the bridge, said: “Today’s report states that any possible work on the Hammersmith Bridge is being reopened on a limited basis without major work, which I know is welcome in the area.
“I urge Hammersmith and Fulham Council to seriously consider these reports so that we can help people who have been blinded by the closure of this bridge to function properly. As we move forward we are committed to finding a funding solution for a complete overhaul of the bridge and reopening to vehicular traffic. ”
A total of £ 1.1 million has been spent on complete repairs to the council-owned bridge, which will take seven years before it can be reopened for motor traffic. The entire repair did not begin because of the running rows between the London Council, the government and transport over funding.
DFT engineering consultant Icom and Cambridge University professor Norman Flake – an expert in fracture mechanics – were asked to review Mott MacDonald’s previous modeling used by the council to close the bridge.
The bridge was completely closed in August after a crack in the northeast foot widened from 8 cm to 24 cm. However, the new report says that this was not likely to happen due to the summer heatwave, as expected, and that the crack could be “quite shallow.”
Experts say the bridge could be reopened once the two western paddles have been “blast-cleaned” to test for any evidence of cracks and once additional surveillance equipment has been installed.
Knowledge about the condition of the bridge is said to have been “significantly improved” since March, when the council’s most recent risk assessment was prepared.
The ICOM report states that the increase in cracks in the northeastern foot between April and August “cannot necessarily be associated with the high temperatures seen in August” and recommends that “the exact source of the event and the depth of this crack should be investigated because it seems likely the crack is quite Shallow. ”
Professor Flake said the “small amount of money” would allow for “immediate remedial action” regardless of the long-term plan to repair and strengthen the bridge.
He added: “In the short term, it will be possible to reopen the bridge quickly and cheaply for pedestrian traffic, but steps are being taken to stabilize the cast iron steps.”
“It can be done without delay, at a fixed time of the week and with little expense,” he said.
Mr Cowan, the council’s labor leader, said in a statement this afternoon: “The bridge could be reopened for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic with little money spent on security, a suggestion that has been a consistent position of the government in the task force. Meetings over the last few months. Our response has been to ask if they would take legal responsibility for making such a decision but they have consistently refused to do so.
“The bridge was closed because the world’s leading expert engineers strongly advised that the badly damaged suspension structure had met with catastrophic failure. If the bridge collapsed, as they suggested, it would be a national catastrophe.
“Our ongoing advice to the government has been to listen to the expert engineers of the Continuous Case for Safe Operations (CCSO) Board, which is constantly reviewing such issues to protect the public.
“The government’s task force met at 11:11 a.m. today. Its members, however, were sent only the documents that included the first meeting of the Fleck and Icom reports at 10:23 a.m. today and after the release of the media report. Needless to say, several members of the taskforce questioned the professionalism of sending the paperwork so late when the official taskforce chairman, Barnes Verke, was already spinning the story in the media.
“At the taskforce meeting, government advisers confirmed that the government had released the Fleck and Icom reports before waiting for the latest review engineer Mott MacDonald to consider its upcoming decisions. Nor did they keep their papers in the CCSO. This appears to be a matter of political interference – it has consistently hampered progress.
“We learned that the Flake report ended on November 6, 2020, and the ICOM paper began on September 30, ended on November 26, and was issued on December 4. No explanation was given as to why these reports were not shared with the CCSO or the taskforce earlier today.
“Hammersmith and Fulham will continue to look for all possible ways to safely reopen the bridge, but will not take any decision against the advice of expert engineers that the lives of thousands of pedestrians are at serious risk. Cyclists, motorists and river traffic used every week Or traveling “”
Tony Devenish, a member of the West Central Conservative London Assembly, said: “The Hammersmith and Fulham Labor Council must listen to this new expert’s advice and give cyclists and pedestrians the best opportunity to reopen the bridge. Londoners can no longer go They must open this important crossing.
“It will be a big step for pedestrians and cyclists to reopen the Hammersmith Bridge. The council cannot forget the disruption caused by the closure.
“Londoners can’t wait more than six years to allow buses, emergency vehicles and traffic to cross the Thames between Hammersmith and Burns. The council also needs to seriously consider a temporary road bridge and fund funding.”