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Essential repairs to historic bridge will close busy city road to through traffic

Corroded ancone beneath Abbey Corner Bridge

A HISTORIC road bridge on a busy route in Leicester is set to close to through traffic until early 2023 while essential maintenance and repair works are carried out.

The Grade-II listed Abbey Corner Bridge, which spans the River Soar on Abbey Park Road, will close to all traffic from Thursday 31 March.

A detailed survey of the historic bridge, which dates back to 1878, has found evidence of corrosion in the cast iron structure and other issues which require extensive maintenance to ensure that the bridge can continue to be used safely by heavy traffic.

Work to repair and strengthen the bridge is expected to take around 45 weeks to complete and will require the closure of Abbey Park Road to all through traffic.

A well-signed short diversion route will be in place for the duration of the works. This will be via Abbey Lane, St Margaret’s Way, Burleys Way and Belgrave Gate, in both directions. Bus services will also be diverted. Motorists are advised to expect delays on the diversion route at busy times.

Access will be maintained for residents and businesses on Abbey Park Road, and for people visiting Abbey Park, during the works.

All on street parking will suspended on Abbey Park Road for the duration of the works. However, Abbey Park car park will remain open.

Bridge maintenance and repairs have been programmed to take place during a major £7.5million revamp of Abbey Park Road. This will help avoid the need for further disruptive closures of the bridge and road for the foreseeable future.

As part of the repairs to Abbey Corner Bridge, the existing cast iron balustrade panels will be removed for full restoration, and the bridge parapet – or barrier – will be raised by around 30cm to improve safety. Damaged masonry will be repaired or replaced, and the structure will be completely re-waterproofed.

Improvement work will also be carried out including the installation of a new 3.5metre-wide bike-friendly footbridge which will run alongside the Abbey Corner Bridge. This is due to be installed and open to pedestrians and cyclists by May 2022.

Martin Fletcher, Leicester City Council director of highways, said: “The Abbey Corner Bridge is a critical part of Leicester’s road network and one of just a few major river crossings in the city. It’s a historic bridge dating back almost 150 years and that means it's getting old and needs maintenance.

“Trial holes and surveys have identified a number of issues with the bridge that we need to address as a priority, otherwise we may risk having to impose traffic weight restrictions on the bridge in years to come.

“We have an opportunity to carry out these works as part of the major revamp of Abbey Park Road and by doing so, we can avoid a worse problem in the coming years and ensure this historic bridge remains fit for purpose for generations to come.

“We will have a short, well-signed diversion in place and will do all we can to help minimise the inevitable disruption that these essential works will cause.”

The £7.5million revamp of Abbey Park Road – which will also see new bus lanes introduced and footpaths improved to create a safer and more attractive route for pedestrians and cyclists – is supported by the Transforming Cities Fund as part of an ambitious programme of investment in sustainable transport across the city.

New bus lanes running in both directions along the road will give more priority to public transport in a bid to improve journey times and encourage more people to use the bus.  To create space for the new bus lanes, general traffic will be reduced to one lane in either direction and on-street parking will be removed between Abbey Corner Bridge and Belgrave Circle. The scheme has been carefully modelled and designed to ensure that traffic capacity will be maintained, helping to avoid delays and congestion.

Footpaths will be widened to provide safe space for pedestrians and cyclists and two new road crossings will be created.

The new 3.5metre wide footbridge will provide a striking centrepiece to the scheme and help ensure that there is enough space for all road users to travel along the busy route safely and efficiently.

A small area of car parking immediately in front of the main gates into Abbey Park will be removed, and the area revamped to create a more welcoming approach into the award-winning, historic park.

A new e-bike docking station will also be installed to the west of the River Soar as part of electric bike hire scheme launched earlier this year by the city council in partnership with Santander.

The council also intends to carry out road resurfacing as part of the scheme.

Deputy City Mayor Cllr Adam Clarke, who leads on environment and transport, said: “The ambitious revamp of Abbey Park Road will help change the way that people think about travelling on this busy route.

“The historic road bridge is in need of essential maintenance but also presents a daunting prospect for cyclists at busy times. The introduction of a new bike-friendly footbridge alongside the existing bridge will make this a much more appealing and safer route for all road users.

“Schemes like this don’t come cheaply or without disruption. However, it is absolutely vital that we continue to invest in helping people to make the shift to cleaner, greener, healthier and cheaper modes of travelling around Leicester, not least because traffic is responsible for around a quarter of the city’s carbon emissions.”

The Transforming Cities Fund is a major £80million citywide programme of investment in sustainable transport, backed by £40million of Government cash from the Department for Transport. The ambitious package of works will focus on major sustainable transport improvements to provide attractive choices for people to get to work, education, shops and other local facilities to help support the city’s growth and deliver on the council’s climate emergency, air quality and health living commitments.

The programme includes the development of new bus priority corridors linking the city centre to local neighbourhoods and suburbs along with the continued development of a network of high-quality cycling and walking routes throughout the city, building on the success of the Connecting Leicester programme.