The condition of Transport for London’s (TfL) major structures could be at risk as the cash-strapped authority considers the future of its Surface Transport Asset Renewals Programme.
The news comes after TfL began urgent repair works on Vauxhall Bridge (pictured) instead of what were previously described as ‘top priority’ renewal works under the programme.
The programme was frozen in 2018 but TfL had intended to bring it up to a ‘steady state’ of around £180m annually over the current and next financial years. However, the impact of the pandemic on its finances meant an effective extension of the freeze for four to five months.
A TfL spokesperson has told Transport Network: ‘The Surface Transport Asset Renewals Programme is being assessed as part of a wider review of TfL’s financial priorities, in response to coronavirus and the impact it has had on TfL revenue.’
Works valued at £119m during the current financial year have resumed, covering assets such as roads, footways, bus and coach stations, bus stops and shelters, river assets, the Woolwich Ferry, traffic signals, bridges, tunnels, street lighting, drainage and trees.
However, this only includes £12m for major highway infrastructure, specifically ‘design work for major renewals on structures such as the A40 Westway and the Rotherhithe Tunnel to keep them safe, reliable and operable’, with no funding for the renewals themselves.
Source: Finance Report and Revised Budget paper to TfL Board July 2020
The Vauxhall and Westway bridges and the Rotherhithe Tunnel are on a list of six structures dating back to 2011 when TfL drew up a Structures and Tunnels Investment Portfolio (STIP) to address the safety and reliability risks posed by the deteriorating condition of major bridge and tunnel assets on its network.
The other assets, which together with these three structures formed the second tranche of STIP, were Lambeth Bridge, Brent Cross and the Blackwall Tunnel southbound.
In 2018, the six structures were listed as top priority within TfL’s Surface Transport Asset Renewals Programme, with a largely unfunded cost estimate of £370m-£745m.
The programme was then ‘paused’ until the end of 2019/20. A paper to TfL’s Programmes and Investment Committee (PIC) warned that ‘restrictions may be necessary on some major assets within the next five years due to the deferral of works’ and that: ‘Continuation of the reduction beyond 2019/20 is very likely to result in greater impacts and maintaining network safety will require asset restrictions and closures, resulting in significant network disruption.’
In March 2020, a paper to the PIC noted that following the two-year reduction in asset renewals ‘an increased number of temporary closures and interim measures were implemented on bridges and tunnels to keep the network safe’.
These included additional traffic restrictions and only cars permitted on the Rotherhithe Tunnel; and speed restrictions on the A40 Westway ‘along with numerous short closures to implement reactive safety works (expansion joint repairs)’.
The paper also noted the closure of Hammersmith Bridge to motor traffic.
TfL has described the works to Vauxhall bridge as ‘critical maintenance’ but has set no date for major renewals, which were previously top of its list of priority works.
The current work includes bridge deck waterproofing, resurfacing the footway and carriageway, drainage improvements, kerb works and replacing the bridge's expansion joints.
TfL said completing these works will address the corrosion and deterioration of the structural metalwork and bearings, allowing further repairs to take place on the underside of the bridge at a later date.
The TfL spokesperson told Transport Network: ‘The works currently being carried out on Vauxhall Bridge are not major renewals, but are expected to keep the bridge safe and operational for years to come.’
The spokesperson added: 'There remains a high likelihood we will need to do the more extensive renewals in the next few years.'