Another Road Link of National Value
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NOW that the Mersey Tunnel has proved itself an immense success and a vital link in the road communications between Liverpool ,and Birkenhead, attention should be directed to the building of other important road communications elsewhere in the country. Of these the one which would undoubtedly be of the most value to a large area of the country is a bridge across the Severn, which would bring two large and important districts into close communication by a direct road in place of a long and circuitous route via Gloucester. There is, perhaps, no single public work which would benefit the commercial-vehicle industry more than such a bridge, which would be invaluable to the road-transport business by linking up Bristol, Avonmouth, Plymouth, Southampton, etc., on the quo side, with Newport, Swansea, Cardiff, etc., on the other side.
The existing arrangement must have cost trade and industry millions of pounds in the equivalent of wasted rnileage, to say nothing of the inconvenience to which other road users will continue to be subjected unless a bridge be built.
The railways, of course, have the Severn Tunnel, but such a tunnel for• road transport would appear to be unnecessary and excessively expensive, whereas a bridge would, according to the report of the engineers, cost only 41,500,000.
The originator of the scheme is Mr. W. Rees Jeffreys, chairman of the Roads Improvement Association, who informs us that he first discussed this matter -with the Hon. C. S. Rolls in 1909, and made active representations in 1912, 1920 and 1929. Apparently the scheme has hitherto
been vetoed by the Gloucestershire County Council, mainly on the score of its fear that it might be involved in a large expenditure.
Matters are now, however, far more encouraging. The county council concerned has appointed a sub-committee to consider the subject, the demand for the bridge is growing in South Wales, the scheme is specifically mentioned in the memorandum recently placed before the Government. by Mr. Lloyd George. The Commissioner for Special Areas, in his report published on July 18, also gives the scheme his warm approval, as it would not only give employment to considerable numbers of Welsh miners, but would open a gateway to South Wales and lead materially to its economic development, particularly for tourist traffic, in respect of which Wales offers great opportunities.
In order to place the scheme on a proper basis, the Roads Improvement Association approached the well-known engineers, Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners, Queen Anne's Lodge, Westminster, London, S.W.1, with a view to obtaining an expert report and putting this before the county council, and, if the council declined to proceed with the matter, to invite the Minister of Transport himself to exercise his powers to build and maintain the bridge.
The engineers completely corroborate the Association's views as to the necessity, engineering practicability and economic soundness of the suggested-bridge, which, in their opinion, should be situated at the lowest practical point on the estuary, and after considering several other sites they recommend, that the structure shonld, be at English Stones, a few hundred yards below the line of the railway Severn Tunnel. The estimate of R1,500,000 will include the necessary approach roads, whilst the time which would be taken in the construction would be four years after obtaining Parliamentary powers.
The bridge, although situated in Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire, should be looked upon primarily as a national' highway. The Government would, therefore, be justified in making the maximum grant, and the principle, already accepted elsewhere, could here be followed, to permit the balance of the cost to be covered by a small toll on vehicles over a maximum period of 10 to 15 years.
No Road Bridge Below Gloucester.
At present the Severn possesses no road bridge below Gloucester, and this constitutes an intolerable barrier to all road traffic, and a permanent obstacle to the fullest development of South Wales and the communities bordering the Bristol Channel. Huge additional areas will be brought within 50-mile road distances of either Bristol or Cardiff, the actual areas affected being 1,450 sq. miles and 1,100 sq. miles respectively.
Other proposals put forward in the past have suggested the construction of a bridge at one or other of three points —Newnham, Sharpness and Chepstow—but the distance that can be saved naturally increases the lower the bridge is situated, and at English Stones the direct saving between Cardiff and London would be 12 miles, whilst Cardiff and Bristol would be brought to within 40 miles of one another by road, a direct saving of 50 miles.
It is considered that any bridge across the Severn at either Chepstow or English Stones must be of the high-level type, designed for the passage of the largest vessels that might, in future, be likely to use the Sharpness or Lydney Docks, and the estimates are therefore based upon the provision of a vertical clearance of 105 ft. above ordinary high water over the navigable channel. At low tide the width of the main waterway at English Stones is reduced to about 1,500 ft., the stream being almost confined to a deep narrow channel known as "The Shoots." With this exception and a strip of water near the west shore, the whole bed of the estuary is uncovered at low tide, and, apart from the two piers which would carry the main span, conditions regarding the construction of foundations are more than usually favourable. The piers to carry the main span would be located on each side of " The Shoots," and there is no reason to anticipate any serious difficulty in their construction, whilst the rocks arc entirely suitable material on which to found the piers.
The bridge would consist of two main parts, a highlevel suspension bridge over the channel and approach viaducts from each bank.
The existing main roads in the vicinity run parallel to the Severn Estuary, and to develop the new line of communication in an east and west direction certain new approach rOads would have to be constructed; fortunately, the main roads are at no great distance, and the new links would not amount to more than seven miles.
How the Cost Can Be Met:
If the bridge were looked upon as a national highway and 85 per cent, of the total cost were provided by the Ministry .of Transport, the local authorities would have to contribute only £233,000, and it is suggested that the only annual charges on this sum and the proportion of maintenance to he met by the local authorities should be secured by a toll on all wheeled traffic. The required income would be, say, £24,000, which sum could be provided by an average toll of 1:.°. on just over 1,300 vehicles per day. In this connection it may be remembered that the published returns regarding the Mersey Tunnel showed that during the first month after its opening the tolls paid exceeded the estimate by 165 per cent.