Fix a bridge while it’s open?

Posted by Derek Mason

27th September 2022

Photo credit: Jack B on Unsplash

How do you repair a bridge, when that bridge needs to remain open? This is one of the biggest challenges with the structural concerns relating to the M62 Ouse Bridge in the East Riding of Yorkshire.

Earlier this year, a routine inspection of the bridge led to National Highways closing two of the eastbound lanes. A partial failure was discovered in a bridge joint across lanes one and two. This joint allows the carriageway to expand and contract with temperature changes, but extensive damage was found.

As a result, lanes one and two were closed, with a contraflow system introduced to keep the bridge open in both directions.

Unfortunately, the traffic diversion put extra pressure on lane three, and the increased vibrations started to damage the concrete under lane three as well. Again, this was picked up during bridge inspections and this lane had to be closed too. This meant that while eastbound traffic towards Hull could still use the bridge due to a contraflow, there were extensive delays – with up to 7km tail backs seen at peak times.

The Ouse Bridge is a reinforced concrete plate girder bridge, spanning the River Ouse between Goole (Junction 36) and Howden (Junction 37) and is a key route into and out of Hull – it’s the bridge that tells eastbound Hull residents they’re “nearly home”. It was built by Costain and officially opened in 1976.

With the structural problems causing traffic issues, National Highways began work on a temporary fix to the eastbound carriageway joint. They removed the road surface to expose the bridge deck, poured concrete across all four lanes of the eastbound carriageway and waited for that to cure. They then began installing metal bridging plates in lane one, before resurfacing the carriageway. This is a temporary solution, designed to allow traffic back onto one lane of the eastbound carriageway.

Alongside that work, a 2+2 contraflow has been introduced, with westbound traffic using the westbound carriageway’s hard shoulder and lane one, and lanes two and three open to eastbound traffic to reduce delays in that direction. One lane of the eastbound carriageway is open to those leaving at junction 37.

Now the real work begins, as National Highways works with Maurer to come up with a long-term solution. The existing joints are obsolete, so engineers will be carrying out the structural investigations, detailed design work and precise calculations needed for the new joints. Ultimately, all eight joints across both carriageways will be permanently replaced, with the bridge remaining at least partially open throughout.

The next phase will see the temporary plates removed and a second set of plates installed across the damaged joint on the eastbound carriageway. The new plates will mean work can continue on a permanent joint replacement while one lane of the eastbound carriageway remains open.

Next, the four westbound carriageway joints will be replaced and, finally, the two remaining eastbound carriageway joints will be replaced. The work is expected to be completed in autumn 2023.

Bridges, like all structures, have a lifespan. These structures age, and water gets in and corrodes things. The skills required for a project such as the Ouse Bridge repair will always be in demand, which is why it’s important that we continue to train enough civil engineers and structural engineers in the UK.

I’ll be talking more about how we attract engineers to the profession in an upcoming article. And for more on bridges read, “How safe is Hammersmith Bridge?”

Meanwhile, if you need assistance with the structural elements of an upcoming project, please do get in touch.

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