On BBC 4 recently was a “Top to Toe” documentary, reporting on how a central Italian town, population 20,000, was built in 1933 by Mussolini in just 253 days.
I reminded myself of this as I bumbled once more through the 40mph restriction on the stretch of A404(M) near Maidenhead that has been the scene of what must be Britain’s most protracted roadwork’s project. The average speed cameras glared down, as if to dare me to edge even one mile an hour over the limit. The workforce, whom the cameras were there to protect… well, it was Sunday, so there was no sign of any activity whatsoever.
Restrictions on the A404(M) were put in place more then three years ago. Whatever work the Highways Agency is doing shows no sign that it will be completed any time soon. This tax payer would like to understand the whys and wherefores of this shocking delay.
Who is responsible and how much is it costing? A note to the local MP, Theresa May, brought the following response, originating from the Highways Agency.
“The existing Western Region Railway Bridge, which carries the A404(M) over the mainline railway line between London and the West of England, was in a deteriorating condition and required complete replacement. The A404(M) carries over 50,000 vehicles every day, and the four line railway below it is a key passenger and freight route with up to 30 movements every hour. The project has involved the complete demolition and replacement of the entire structure, while balancing the needs of road users, rail users and people living nearby. The steel used in the existing bridge’s construction, which dates from the 1930s, was of poor quality, and the design meant that water draining from the road, including the salt that is used to treat the road during cold periods, built up around the bridge supports. Over time, this had a corrosive effect. The new bridge will have a life expectancy of 120 years.
The old bridge was taken down and the new bridge constructed in phases. First we demolished then rebuilt the southern side of the bridge. We then rebuilt the centre section, and lastly we demolished and rebuilt the northern side of the bridge. The sections of the newly constructed bridge were slid together, into their final positions.
By working this way, we have been able to keep two lanes on the A404(M) in each direction open to traffic at virtually all times throughout the work. Each phase involved some major civil engineering work, and for this temporary closures of the A404(M) were required, as this work could not be safely completed with traffic running nearby. We planned most closures to happen at weekends, when the traffic flow is lowest.
We are also upgrading the existing noise barriers along the road and along the bridge itself. Temporary noise fences had been erected during the work.
Work to replace the Western Region Railway Bridge on the A404(M), between junctions 9a and 9b near Maidenhead started in early September 2009 and will continue through until September 2011.
The replacement bridge is now substantially complete, and in the final forthcoming weeks, work will include completion of the acoustic fencing, earthworks, verge works and resurfacing of the carriageway.
From midday on Friday 23 September, there will be a full closure of the A404(M) in both directions between junction 9b and the M4 Junction 8/9 roundabout to allow for all equipment to be removed from site, as well as resurfacing of the carriageway. The road will reopen at 5am on Monday 26 September.”
Thank you, Westminster. This answers substantially all my questions… except cost. Is there anywhere on the public record, I wonder, a statement of the original budgeted cost of this work and the current estimated outturn? I shall continue my digging.