Over the last couple of weeks, the grade II listed Hammersmith Bridge has been in the news with the announcement of plans for its renovation hitting the press.
The first bridge on the site was opened in October 1827 at a cost of £80,000, which is equivalent to just over £7 million in today’s terms. The bridge that stands there now was reopened in 1887, having been upgraded because of the weight of the traffic using it. Designed by Sir Joseph Bazalgette, it rests on the same pier foundations which were constructed for Tierney Clark’s original structure. The new bridge had a supporting structure built of wrought iron.
In April 2019 the bridge was closed to motor traffic, and in August 2020 this closure was extended to pedestrians and cyclists. Around twenty-two thousand vehicles and sixteen thousand cyclists/pedestrians used the bridge daily prior to its closure. Micro-fractures were found in 2019, when for the first time a detailed survey was carried out using current day technology. Micro fractures can be a serious threat, since cast iron is known to be brittle and can shatter, meaning that the bridge could, without warning, collapse.
Costs have been estimated at £46 million to stabilise it, ensuring its safety for pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic beneath it, or £141 million to fully restore the bridge, so it can be reopened to vehicles.
Back in November 2020, Hammersmith and Fulham council announced a partnership with the architects Fosters and Partners, disclosing plans to insert a temporary double height structure into the existing bridge, whilst repairs on the current bridge are being made. The question until this last week was, if the existing bridge foundations would support this double decker insert, and it seems that it can, so if approved by the government, work could be started in the next couple of months.
The double height project is a structure laid above the existing road level, spanning the Thames, which will have an upper level for vehicles and a lower level for pedestrians. Assuming this scheme is approved, the bridge could be open for pedestrians in the summer of 2022, and for vehicles several months later. The entire restoration project would take until the end of 2023 and then the inserted structure would be removed.
Because of no central government funding the caveat of this, is that it would become a toll bridge again, at a cost of around £3 to drive across, back when it first opened in 1827 it was a toll bridge. One of the foreseeable questions is – “with a toll, will it just disperse the traffic elsewhere as people try to avoid using it”? We have seen the same thing occur when the congestion charge was introduced and caused problems for those areas just outside of its catchment area.