A £200 MILLION project has been announced to revamp the M32 Eastville flyover.
Work is due to start 2026 on the project, which will fix cracking concrete and corroding metal bearings found in surveys of the 1.1km (around 2/3 of a mile) long structure.
Engineers will “jack up” the entire bridge during the repairs and will also install noise barriers, a new central reservation, lighting, surfacing, signs and gantries.
But people who live nearby – some just 10 metres away – are being warned that some of the work, which includes removing the parapets, will be “very loud”.
A 521-page report from an inspection in June this year revealed defects including “poorly installed” bearings, corrosion and a blocked, leaking drainage system in the structure, officially known as the Eastville Viaduct.
The inspectors estimated the cost of repairs at £22.6 million.
But National Highways, the agency responsible for the bridge, says the report only covered visible faults.
It says that while the overall structure is still “safe and sound”, it is planning a much bigger programme to “extend the life” of the flyover, which was built between 1970 and 1975 and carries 63,000 vehicles on an average day.
The works will involve “complex traffic management”, with two lanes kept open in each direction, a 30mph speed limit and narrower lanes. Slip roads at the Eastville junction will be closed temporarily for refurbishment.
Why repairs are needed
One problem which can be clearly seen from below the flyover is the many areas of ‘spalling’, where concrete has broken down due to weathering or chemical reactions and fallen away from the underside of the bridge, exposing the reinforcing steel.
The flyover’s blocked central drainage trough sends water contaminated with salt and other chemicals into the concrete.
National Highways’ Terry Robinson said: “It’s unmaintainable for us, we absolutely can’t get to it.
“When concrete was first used it was seen as a wonder material, it was going to be indestructible. It’s not, we’re learning that now.”
What the work will involve
National Highways route manager Sean Walsh said it was an opportunity to “renew rather than repair” the bridge.
Engineers will replace all 128 bearings on the pillars holding up the bridge, which enable it to move as the concrete expands and contracts with changing temperatures, but need to raise one section at a time.
Engineering manager Terry Robinson said: “We might have to shut the road while we jack it up, but once it’s jacked up we lock the jacks off and we can run traffic over it.”
The central reservation will be removed to adjust lanes. A new one will be installed, which could allow bus lanes to be created in future.
A particularly noisy part of the work will be removing and replacing the bridge’s edge beams, as the new noise and vehicle barriers will be too heavy for the existing ones.
Mr Robinson said: “We’ll have to literally cut the edges off the bridge and recast new edges.
“These are complex structures very close to people’s houses, so working conditions are going to be difficult, with limited spaces.”
Mr Walsh said: “You wouldn’t want to do very loud intrusive work during the middle of the night, but then that extends the period. It’s a balancing act between the needs of the community and getting the work done.”
Once the works are completed, it’s unclear if the speed limit would be raised above 40mph again.
It is also unclear exactly how long the repairs will take.
Although demolishing the entire flyover has been suggested, Mr Robinson said this would be “very difficult” because of the tension cables squeezing the concrete together.
Mr Walsh said: “You would need to get the road down to the level of the Eastville roundabout, so that would require significant cutting. Crucially you also have to acknowledge the community and the effect that demolition would have on them and their properties.”
By Alex Seabrook, Local Democracy Reporting Service
Improvements above and below the bridge
AS well as installing noise barriers to provide some relief for people living close to the viaduct and improving the drainage, signage and surface, the works could see improvements below the deck.
The area underneath the bridge, which crosses Stapleton Road, Glenfrome Road and the river Frome as well as the roundabout for the motorway junction, is largely empty, except for an improvised skate park and parking used by Eastville Park visitors, van dwellers and others.
National Highways wants to improve the space, possibly building on last year’s art project to decorate some of the pillars, improving the skate park or even extending Eastville Park.
Mr Walsh said: “We would like to leave a positive legacy for the land under the bridge.
“It’s not our land but we have begun conversations with others where the community could reclaim this land.”
Community needs to be involved
Eastville ward councillors have welcomed the prospect of improvements.
Labour councillor Marley Bennett said: “Residents living near the M32, who bear the main brunt of its impacts, have been clear that they want noise mitigation measures installed as soon as possible.
“It’s exciting to hear that there are proposals to improve the public realm underneath the viaduct.
“The specifics must be led by a thorough consultation with the local community, but I’d particularly welcome elements of ‘greening’ and the re-introduction of natural elements.
“I would also hope this would support existing uses of the space, such as the skate park and flea markets.”
Green councillor Lorraine Francis said: “I have heard many residents mention the daily issues they experience with noise and pollution, so this is a fantastic opportunity to think creatively about solutions.
“It would be great to see the underused space under the bridge being utilised for young people in the area, who have nowhere to go, perhaps with a permanent structure. Alternatively pop up events, such as markets or art events, could be encouraged.
“This is a great opportunity to address the environmental impact of over 60 years of heavy traffic.
“Residents should be encouraged to share their ideas about the space.”