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Opinon: Bridge strikes are down to driver error – it’s that plain and simple

Closure of a Fenland bridge that regularly ranks as the ‘most bashed’ in the country is not an option – at least for now.

And quite frankly it probably doesn’t need to be.

The Stonea underpass is regularly hit by unsuspecting motorists who try to squeeze their high-sided vehicles under the low bridge that carries the railway over the Sixteen Foot road – and more often than not they end up wedged.

New signs have gone up on Stonea Underpass to try to avert future collisions - but campaigner James Fuller said it has already been hit multiple times. Photo: Graham Chappell.
New signs have gone up on Stonea Underpass to try to avert future collisions - but campaigner James Fuller said it has already been hit multiple times. Photo: Graham Chappell.

In a lengthy reply to MP Steve Barclay, Network Rail explained how it and Cambridgeshire County Council have carefully considered various options to make the bridge safer for motorists.

The options even considered creating an alternative crossing and permanent closure of the underpass forcing motorists to use the rail crossing.

Tens of thousands of pounds have already been spent on this particular bridge including reinforced girders being installed to stop every strike of it disrupting train services.

Signage has been upgraded warning drivers of just how low this bridge is, and most recently the underpass was closed for a few days while even brighter, larger warning signs were put up.

But within a day of its reopening, someone had managed to somehow fail to notice the lowness of the bridge, and hit it.

Quite what the solution is I really don’t know because I duck going under there in my little car, so how someone driving a delivery van or towing a caravan doesn’t feel the same need causing them to think ‘this is really low, my vehicle won’t fit’, I don’t know.

All I can imagine is that people are following their sat navs and not paying proper attention to the road they are driving on. You really can’t make the signs much clearer than they already are.

The bridge strikes are quite simply down to driver error, that is the fact of the matter. Closing the underpass while we still have manually operated gates that take forever to open and close is really not much of an option.

All it will mean is longer queues at peak times because that road is surprisingly well-used.

Drivers also need to slow down along the Sixteen Foot because despite there being a 50mph speed limit in place there are few who actually stick to it. Going too fast has also got to be a factor as it means you are upon the low bridge sooner than you have time to think.

The other problem we have with the bridge is drivers failing to understand the layout of the road at the crossing properly. You have the cars going straight on under the bridge, and you have the larger vehicles going over the crossing above.

The right of way is for those going straight on, but not all drivers realise this, and residents living nearby report regular near misses as a result.

All in all, Stonea underpass and the solution to it are a bit of a conundrum because put simply if drivers paid more attention, drove at the correct speed limit, and took their eyes off the sat nav from time to time, there would not be a problem to solve in the first place...

While we’re on the subject of roads, Cambridgeshire County Council has announced that proper repairs for our Fenland peat soil roads and those like them across the area are likely to cost around £300 million.

That’s because constantly patching up the potholes, and filling in the cracks as the sides subside is not what’s needed.

The council has recognised, what all of those living in this area have known all along, our roads don’t need repairing they need rebuilding.

That is an expensive option, but had there been a little more foresight, and a little more understanding of the problems drivers face on our roads, it might not have been quite the daunting project it now is.

If when a road had subsided the repairs involved rebuilding work instead of a patch-up job then the cost would have been spread out over the years.

Now we are hoping that somehow the government will find the £300 million needed to do the job properly.

I fear we could be waiting quite some time for that to happen, and that means our roads are only going to continue to get worse and worse, and of course, valuable funding being spent on almost pointless repairs, that barely last.

Finally, on a happier note, today is the 107th birthday of Gladys Kightly – just wow what an amazing age.

It is mindblowing to think about all the things she has seen over her lifetime, from men landing on the Moon to the computer age and everything in between including the invention of automatic washing machines and television.

She has lived through two world wars, and the Swinging Sixties.

It is truly remarkable and I’m sure we all wish her a very happy birthday and let’s hope she has more to come.

Congratulations Gladys and enjoy your day...

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