Shock as bridge pile found to be made of tim­ber

Herald Express - - News - BY DANIEL CLARK

SPE­CIAL­IST divers are sur­vey­ing Shal­don Bridge af­ter a shock dis­cov­ery found that one of the main sup­port­ing piles is made of de­te­ri­o­rat­ing wood and not the con­crete and steel con­struc­tion shown on the orig­i­nal plans.

Devon County Coun­cil has im­posed weight re­stric­tions on ve­hi­cles heav­ier than three tonnes us­ing the bridge while pro­fes­sion­als check to see if any other piers also have wooden piles.

Cllr Alis­tair De­whirst, the Devon County Coun­cil­lor for Shal­don, said that “fin­gers-crossed” the bridge would be re­open to all traf­fic by the end of the week, if the divers find noth­ing else wrong.

But he also raised con­cerns, echoed by the vil­lage, that more sig­nage is needed as some peo­ple are ig­nor­ing the re­stric­tions.

Cllr De­whirst said: “There is great con­cern in the com­mu­nity that peo­ple are ig­nor­ing the weight lim­its. I am try­ing to get more and im­proved sig­nage, and more en­force­ment, but it is dif­fi­cult as the coun­cil don’t have the man­power or the le­gal force to stop peo­ple who are break­ing the limit.”

How­ever, he added that if the en­gi­neers thought the bridge was danger­ous, then they

Divers in­spect the sup­ports of Shal­don Bridge would have closed it to all traf­fic. The fo­cus of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion by divers is on the five piers in the deep-wa­ter chan­nel. Be­cause the piers are per­ma­nently sub­merged in­spec­tions are ex­tremely dif­fi­cult and can only be car­ried out by com­mer­cial div­ing con­trac­tors.

Ques­tions have been raised as to why pre­vi­ous in­spec­tions of Shal­don Bridge failed to iden­tify that the pile was made of wood, but Cllr De­whirst said it ap­peared the con­trac­tors who re­build the bridge be­tween 1927 and 1931 did some ‘jig­gery-pok­ery’.

He said: “Shal­don Bridge’s orig­i­nal con­struc­tion draw­ings show that the bridge’s piers are each made up of four con­crete piles, which are en­cased in steel and con­crete. How­ever, the in­spec­tion re­vealed that one of the piles in­side a pier was made from tim­ber in­stead of con­crete, which has started to de­te­ri­o­rate. Pre­vi­ous in­spec­tions have con­firmed con­crete piles on other piers, but as they are deep un­der the wa­ter­line and in fast mov­ing wa­ter, not all the piles were checked when the work was last done.

“The en­gi­neers re­lied on the orig­i­nal draw­ings, but it seems they were not cor­rect and there was some ‘jig­gery-pok­ery’ by the con­trac­tors when they re­built the bridge.”

Shal­don Bridge was the long­est wooden bridge in Eng­land when it opened in June 1827, but af­ter 11 years, the cen­tre tim­ber arches col­lapsed, eaten through by ship­worms. It was re­built in wood and re­opened in 1840, but it par­tially col­lapsed again in 1893. The bridge was com­pletely re­built be­tween 1927 and 1931.

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