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Call for new £100 million A17 bridge project

A £100 million-plus project is needed to build a new river crossing on one of the main routes to and from Lynn, according to leading councillors.

The call to think about replacing the Cross Keys Bridge on the A17 came as political leaders backed plans for a £1.5 million repainting project, which could bring months of delays next year.

But local representatives in Sutton Bridge have questioned the need for such a development.

Three-way traffic lights will be in place now from Sunday at the Cross Keys Bridge in Sutton Bridge. (17773967)
Three-way traffic lights will be in place now from Sunday at the Cross Keys Bridge in Sutton Bridge. (17773967)

Members of Lincolnshire County Council’s executive agreed to a four-month project to paint and repair the swing bridge when they met on Tuesday, but also argued that it’s now time to look to the future.

The road is a key strategic east/west route for businesses and tourists - and there’s a fear that the 1897 bridge won’t cope with carrying heavy traffic for too many more years to come.

Members agreed that the Department for Transport ought to consider funding a replacement structure.

Sutton Bridge Cross Keys swing bridge traffic controlThree way control Village Southbound queue including 505 service bus (16182966)
Sutton Bridge Cross Keys swing bridge traffic controlThree way control Village Southbound queue including 505 service bus (16182966)

The authority’s leader, Martin Hill said: “This needs to be on the national radar as something which is of high importance.”

Council executive director Andy Gutherson told the meeting that the project would cost “well in excess” of £100 million, as a ‘ball park” figure.

Colin Davie, executive councillor for economic development, said the bridge is a “critical piece of infrastructure” and the campaign to replace it needs to begin now.

He added: “The Government needs to understand that this bridge isn’t going to last forever.

“We need to be on the front foot on this rather than scrambling for the solution.”

But councillors who represent Sutton Bridge have questioned whether such a scheme is needed.

Michael Booth, a South Holland district councillor, remembers a past plan for a new bridge - before the new A17 was built in 1989.

He said at that time it was proposed to build a structure high enough for boats to pass underneath - but that this would need to begin back level with Princes factory to reach the required height.

Mr Booth believes it will not be worth replacing Cross Keys Swing Bridge - not least because it is a Grade II* listed structure and would likely still need to be kept and maintained.

He added: “It can’t just be left to rust away.

“I was all in favour of a fixed bridge going across the river but due to what’s happened and the cost I am saying let’s use the old one. Why spend all that money?”

Jack Tyrrell, county councillor for Sutton Bridge, also thinks the project would be a waste of money - and fears that a new structure could be an ugly blot on the landscape.

He said: “Sutton Bridge likes that bridge because it’s got a bit of history.

“If you have got to keep it there I don’t see the point. We have still got to open and shut it - so what’s the point of putting another one next to it?”

For now, executive members did agree to paint and maintain Cross Keys Bridge - which could cost about £1.5 million.

The work is due to start at the end of February and could last until the beginning of July, with the main paint job done in the spring/summer.

While painting is carried out - and maintenance to the turret - traffic will be reduced to one lane, something which has caused long queues in the past, such as during the last major works on the bridge in 2019.

Council structures engineer Richard Waters told members that the ‘vast majority’ of businesses in the area prefer traffic light controlled lane closures to a full shutting of the bridge - which would require a long diversion along the A1101 and A47 via Wisbech.

He said during working hours the lights would be man-operated, explaining:

“We can switch to green in one direction and hold it for ten minutes to clear a huge backlog of traffic.”

The aim is to carry out the work before the school summer holidays and well ahead of harvest.

The work needs specialist contractors and the bridge suffers corrosion due to marine salt of the tidal River Nene - as well as road salt from winter driving.

As well as traffic, the bridge will need to swing open to allow access for boats.

Mr Waters said: “By law we cannot obstruct the passage of vessels into Wisbech - and also we wouldn’t want to in terms of the economy.”

There’s also a limit to how much scaffolding can be put up at once during the project.

Mr Waters explained: “It could effectively act as a sail and swing the bridge faster than you wanted to.”

The council says it will try to avoid a clash with planned works in Wisbech and is in talks with Cambridgeshire County Council. As a “last resort” the work may have to be delayed for a year.

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