Preparatory work is due to start in January on a scheme to support economic growth by improving traffic flow on one of the main routes into Exeter.
Bridge Road is currently a traffic congestion hotspot, suffering from tailbacks which block the Countess Wear junction and its approach routes.
Devon County Council is planning to widen Bridge Road to provide two continuous outbound lanes from Countess Wear to the Matford roundabout in order to tackle queuing and reduce journey times for all traffic, while at the same time improving pedestrian and cycle facilities.
Work on the main widening scheme is not scheduled to start until 2015. However, the first phase in the Bridge Road improvements will start on Monday 13 January. Once utility cables have been moved and replaced, concrete piled foundations will be installed within the piers of the historic Grade II Listed Countess Wear Bridge, which will eventually support a new cantilevered cycleway and walkway. This will enable the road over the bridge to be widened to carry two lanes in both directions.
As a piling rig will be working on top of the bridge, one of the inbound lanes will need to be closed, reducing Bridge Road to one traffic lane in each direction with a temporary speed limit of 30mph. A pedestrian and cycle route will be maintained throughout the work.
Working time restrictions have been placed on the work due to environmental restrictions, but it is hoped the work will be completed by Friday 16 May or earlier if possible.
This initial phase will not provide any permanent change to the road layout. Following completion of the piling and load testing of the installed concrete piles, the highway will return to three-lanes until the construction of the walkway/cycleway starts in 2015. The new structure will be added to the upstream side of the existing Countess Wear Bridge in order to provide room for an additional traffic lane.
The Bridge Road widening scheme was originally part of the £35million “Exeter Principal Urban Area” major scheme bid to Government and public exhibitions about the proposals were held at various locations at the time.
In 2009, Devon County Council gained Listed Building Consent for the construction of the cantilevered walkway and cycleway.
Although the major scheme as a whole was dropped following the Government’s comprehensive spending review in 2010, Devon County Council has progressed the individual elements of the scheme so they can be completed as part of a phased development programme. So far, the County Council has funded the Western Way widening and Alphington Road outbound widening schemes using Local Transport Plan funding over the past couple of years.
The Bridge Road widening is the next priority which is critical to help unlock major developments of 6,000 new homes in Newcourt and south west Exeter. It is being funded using a combination of developer contributions and, as one of the priorities of the Local Transport Board, it is potentially in line for a Department for Transport grant for major local transport schemes.
Councillor Andrew Leadbetter, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Economy and Growth, said: “I’m sure everyone who lives, works or visits Exeter and uses Bridge Road would agree that they want it to be improved, and to have two continuous lanes both inbound and outbound will make a huge difference to travelling on this route. Unfortunately, the short term disruption cannot be avoided in providing these improvements, but by allowing for the piling works in advance it reduces the risk of delays to the main scheme in 2015. This scheme is a long term project but it is a vital upgrade to support the continued growth of the local economy. It will provide lasting benefit to commuters and local businesses.”
Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Highway Maintenance, said: “Every effort will be made to minimise disruption throughout every stage of this project. The innovative steel cantilever bridge will provide a safe route for pedestrians and cyclists, away from traffic on what is one of the busiest routes into the city. It is also the most economical and environmentally friendly way of widening Bridge Road which, when complete, will really help traffic flows and improve the reliability of bus journey times. This scheme will also upgrade the Exe Estuary cycle link between Glasshouse Lane and the river valley cycle route.”
Councillor Andy Hannan, Devon County Councillor for Priory and St Leonard’s, said: “The residents of the Glasshouse Lane estate have long been plagued by traffic ‘rat running’ from Topsham Road through local streets to join Bridge Road in order to avoid hold-ups at the Countess Wear roundabout. Hopefully, when completed this scheme will help prevent traffic backing up and make these unwelcome diversions less popular. Improvements for cyclists, pedestrians, and those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters, will be warmly welcomed.”
Work will be carried out by South West Highways, with a specialist subcontractor for the piling operation.