As if there weren’t already enough crises, London’s bridges were “falling down” in 2020. Three were closed for vital repairs. Hammersmith Bridge remains suspended in limbo while the other two, London Bridge and Vauxhall Bridge, reopened after months of work. Yet, none are totally in the clear. London Bridge’s reopening included significant daytime traffic restrictions. Traffic restrictions may be implemented for Vauxhall Bridge, if money cannot be found for more repairs. Financial straits threaten Hammersmith Bridge as well. It was first closed to vehicular traffic in April 2019 and closed to all traffic, pedestrian and bicycles over and boat traffic under, in August 2020 due to widened cracks feared to portend imminent collapse. The estimate to repair this bridge is £140 million and nearly seven years of work.
In my experiences walking bridges, it seems common to wait until a bridge is almost falling down to invest in it. It appears politically unappealing to direct funds to maintaining bridges, so we live in a world with a dire refrain of our collapsing infrastructure.
In Pittsburgh, bridges are often left to run the course of their lives without regular maintenance, then are replaced with a new bridge. The resulting demolition ceremonies and ribbon cuttings make splashy political news stories. The river bridges are an exception. Probably because of their character and contribution to the city’s photogenetic downtown, they are occasionally partially or completely closed for maintenance.
London’s river bridges have more history and, sometimes, more character than Pittsburgh’s bridges. Hammersmith Bridge is one of the city’s unique and historical bridges. The steep price tag to repair this bridge, perhaps the result of mounting deferred maintenance, begs the question of at what point in the decades of non-investment is the threshold crossed beyond which repair is no longer an option.
The decades of neglect in Pittsburgh and London overlooks bridges’ frequent role as practical infrastructure built to assist in crossing an obstacle. Even temporary closings can cause extreme headaches and delays to those who rely on the bridge. Hammersmith Bridge was left to deteriorate so long, it had to be closed before a plan was in place. As funds and a repair approach are sought, the residents and businesses of Hammersmith continue to be seriously inconvenienced by not being able to cross the river close to home.
Note: Lyrics to “London Bridge is Falling Down” were taken from https://allnurseryrhymes.com/london-bridge-is-falling-down/.