Replacing Preston’s landmark Old Tram Bridge could cost up to £10million, initial estimates have revealed.
And tearing down the existing historic bridge, which was shut due to safety concerns in February, could cost a further £225,000.
Lancashire County Council says no firm figures have been put on the work, but it has revealed the early estimated costs as between £5million-£10million, following a Freedom of Information request from the Post.
A bid for government funding for any potential replacement is now being teed up.
The popular bridge, which spans the River Ribble and links Avenham Park to Penwortham, was closed indefinitely after engineers raised concerns about safety after finding more than 200 faults earlier this year.
The Post can also reveal that “major concerns” about defects in the bridge were raised by engineers seven years ago.
Experts from Jacobs UK Ltd assessed the bridge in a previous inspection report in 2012, and advised County Hall that the bridge was “in poor condition overall, with a number of significant defects”.
They drew up a long list of recommended actions, including urgent concrete testing on beams and piers, and warned: “Since the defects are so extensive and because of the significant size of the structure, any repair and maintenance works will be very costly... It may be considered more cost effective to replace rather than repair the existing structure.”
Previous full inspections were also carried out in 2008 and 1998, with smaller inspections in between each year.
The most recent report in February, produced by LCC’s own experts, said the bridge’s condition had declined to ‘very poor’ and recommended options to replace the bridge should be studied.
Repairing the bridge is "not viable"
County Coun Keith Iddon, cabinet member for highways and transport, told the Post in August that repairing the bridge was ‘not viable’ as the main deck beams were beyond repair and other work would be costly.
There had been confusion over which authority bore ultimate responsibility for the bridge.
Lawyers were asked to look into the issue ealrier this year and later determined Preston Council was the owner, but the two authorities have agreed to work together on the matter.
The Post’s FOI asked if LCC could confirm how much was spent on legal costs but was told the information was ‘not recorded’.
A Preston City Council spokesman said: “Lancashire County Council has been inspecting the bridge on the grounds of public safety for a number of years and indeed carrying out repairs.
A Principal Bridge Inspection undertaken earlier this year indicated that the structure has deteriorated significantly since the previous inspection, resulting in the county council taking the decision to close the public right of way that crosses the bridge as a matter of safety.
“While we take on board the advice provided in the latest Principal Bridge Inspection, the option to repair the bridge has not been discounted at this stage. However, repairing the structure would be both expensive and not without its difficulties with the result that any extended bridge life would not match that of a new bridge.
“Both councils are working together on a submission to the government’s Transforming Cities Fund, which will be submitted in November and seeks funding to replace the bridge. The outcome of the bid is unlikely to be known until at least the first quarter of 2020.
“The cost of any potential new bridge will be dependent upon the final design, but what can be confirmed is that the demolition cost of the bridge, should this be necessary, will be substantially less if it were carried out as part of a bridge replacement scheme rather than in isolation.
“In the meantime, there is an alternative river crossing approximately 400 metres downstream of the old Tram Road Bridge via Avenham Viaduct. Until the issues around the Old Tram Road Bridge are resolved, Avenham Viaduct provides an alternative route for those wishing to cycle and walk.”
Campaigner Michael Nye, of the Friends of the Tram Road Bridge group, said he was frustrated that the two authorities are approaching the Transforming Cities Fund for cash.
He said: “I have contacted my MP to ask them to inform the Cities Fund that this is not the correct use of the fund.
“The bridge is damaged because of the council neglecting it for six years. The damage is neglect.
“To go cap in hand to the Transforming Cities Fund is like never servicing your car and then going out and asking them them to pay for a new one for you.”
Old Tram Bridge History
The original timber bridge was built in 1802/3 but has since been completely reconstructed.
It was erected to carry goods across the Ribble between Preston and Walton Summit. It was rebuilt in 1935 after being badly damaged by high flood waters.
It is thought the original struts and piers were replaced around 1930s, and the bridge was then re-decked in the 1960s using reinforced concrete.
It is not listed but cuncillors have described it as “a major heritage site for the people of Preston.”