BRIDGE OF FEAR

2018-03-15 14:29
A truck drives under the damaged Peter Brown bridge. Residents have once again raised fears over the bridge's safety and have noticed an increased number of heavy vehicles driving on it.

A truck drives under the damaged Peter Brown bridge. Residents have once again raised fears over the bridge's safety and have noticed an increased number of heavy vehicles driving on it. (Ian Carbutt)

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There are renewed rumbles of fear as the rickety Peter Brown bridge over the N3 groans under the weight of more and more construction trucks.

A supporting pillar was seriously damaged by a truck in late 2016, and a temporary support structure was erected until permanent repairs could be done.

One traffic lane above the damaged pier has since been closed, and traffic signs were erected by Msunduzi forbidding vehicles weighing more than five tons from travelling on the bridge.

But residents have for months noticed heavy vehicles, like cement mixers, buses and large cargo trucks driving on the bridge.

There is now widespread concern among the community that the bridge could collapse, and local residents questioned the lack of monitoring of the important arterial bridge, which already attracts high traffic volumes because of schools and businesses.

Sanral on Wednesday contested the vehicle weight limit of the bridge, and said repairs to it would likely only start next year. E-mail correspondence by residents to Sanral and minutes of community meetings suggest motorists have for months been ignoring the five-ton weight restriction.

This was even a concern for a Msunduzi traffic inspector, who told a Townhill Community Policing Forum meeting last month that heavy “trucks and trailers” needed to use an alternate route.

“The weight of the vehicles is a problem due to the bridge not being properly erected underneath at this stage,” the inspector is quoted as saying in minutes of that meeting.

And Sanral itself seemed to acknowledge this concern, first saying in a December 2016 e-mail that the bridge was only safe should motorists obey “the weight restriction posted”.

Then, in a June 2017 e-mail, Sanral told a resident that businesses and schools in the area meant heavy traffic for Peter Brown, and promised it would install extra support to the bridge. It is unclear whether this was done.

Residents are now concerned about how the agency would ensure motorists complied with the weight restriction, especially with the recent increase in heavy trucks because of construction in the area.

These fears were raised back in August, when an e-mail was forwarded to Sanral in which concerned residents indicated they had seen concrete mixer trucks travelling over the bridge despite the road signs, but this was seemingly never responded to.

But Sanral eastern region project manager Hugh Brooks said the bridge was safe to carry truck loads weighing as much as 20 tons. “The temporary props are certified to carry a load of 300 tons. However, for safety, the truck loads on the bridge have been restricted to 20 tons,” he said.

Brooks said Sanral would notify local traffic authorities should motorists be seen not to be complying, but did not provide details as to how it would monitor the bridge.

He explained that the design for the repairs was complete, but the project was held back by new requirements related to changes in preferential procurement policies, which is now more aligned to BEE legislation.

Repairs may only start in January next year, he said.

Regarding apparent unanswered e-mails from residents, Brooks said: “Sanral responds to all queries received from the public and media. Please ask [them] to forward [their] queries.”

Melika Singh, the area’s councillor, told The Witness she was “very concerned” about the stability of the bridge.

“I have made numerous attempts to contact Sanral and the silence is deafening. The situation is worsened daily due to the new construction projects taking place in the area, which calls for the use of trucks and heavy machinery.

“I am very concerned about the stability of the bridge and the safety of the residents.”

As far back as December 2016, shortly after the truck crash, Sanral said in an e-mail to Singh that repair work would “likely” take place towards “mid-2017”.

The agency then told The Witness this year that it would likely commence permanent repairs in July.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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