COUNCIL leaders are ready to step in to save Frodsham and the surrounding road network from suffering a slow and painful death by traffic.
Members of Cheshire West and Chester Council’s executive have recommended spending £3.5m over two years to help with the refurbishment of British Waterways’ 90-year-old Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge.
The cash will meet the majority of the estimated £4.5m needed for major refurbishment and re-strengthening required to enable the ageing bridge to cope in the future with its current 40-tonne vehicular weight restriction.
“It has been a hard decision to make – particularly when money is so very tight – but the alternative is just not worth contemplating,” said Cllr Lynn Riley, executive member for community and environment.
The bridge carries 20,000 vehicles a day on the A56 over the River Weaver and is the only suitable road crossing over the river for miles in each direction.
And heavy lorries – apart from high-sided vehicles – which are normally diverted through Frodsham when the M56 westbound is blocked, would have to travel miles out of their way with the only alternative routes via Northwich or the Mersey Tunnels.
Cllr Riley said: “British Waterways can contribute a proportion of the money and the Government funding criteria has changed.
“We must act before the bridge deteriorates to the stage where a weight limit has to be imposed and heavy lorries have no escape route if the motorway is blocked.
“Lorries above 18 tonnes wanting to access Frodsham would have to follow a lengthy diversion route to reach the town with resultant delays and impact on local businesses.”
Work to replace the bridge deck, repairs to the parapets and repainting of the bridge’s shabby steelwork structure will begin in spring next year.
The bridge will not close to pedestrians or vehicles during the 10-month operation but road traffic will be reduced to a singlelane operation controlled by traffic lights.
Cllr Riley added: “We will make every effort to keep disruption to a minimum but it is inevitable that a major operation of this complexity will lead to some delays.”
Frodsham councillor Andrew Dawson said: “The council has done the honourable thing and stepped up to the plate for the good of the local community.
“I’m absolutely delighted that we have got to grips with this problem at last – but not so delighted that the taxpayer will have to foot the lion’s share of the bill.”
He said he would like to see local road remodelling to help traffic flow when work is under way on the bridge.
“Not only will the structure problem of this vital bridge be sorted but Frodsham will no longer have to put up with its eyesore gateway,” he said.
The council is hoping that the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge project can be timed to avoid the height of the work on the Mersey Gateway project which will have a major effect on traffic in the area.
Kingsley councillor Ralph Oultram said: “The Weaver Bridge is strategically vital to the traffic network in this area which is exactly why the council has agreed to take much of the responsibility for the refurbishment of a bridge it does not own.
“Even so, we must do everything we can to minimise the inconvenience that will result from both these major projects.”
Weaver Vale MP Graham Evans said: “The future of the Sutton Weaver Swing Bridge has been a real concern for me and for local residents. I have made the views of my constituents clear to both the council and to British Waterways and I am pleased that funding has now been secured.”
Wendy Capelle, waterway manager at British Waterways, added: “The two organisations have a joint responsibility for the bridge and we have been working with the council for a number of years on funding options.
“I’m really pleased that the council have agreed to provide the shortfall in funding. Plans are now under way to commence work next spring to restore the bridge to its former glory.
“British Waterways will be consulting with our customers and stakeholders who use the River Weaver about the restrictions which we will try to minimise as much as possible while the works are taking place.”