Orwell Bridge

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Orwell Bridge
The Orwell Bridge from Orwell Country Park
Coordinates52°01′37″N 1°09′52″E / 52.026909°N 1.16449°E / 52.026909; 1.16449Coordinates: 52°01′37″N 1°09′52″E / 52.026909°N 1.16449°E / 52.026909; 1.16449
OS grid referenceTM163445
CarriesMotor vehicles (A14 and A12)
CrossesRiver Orwell (Freston Reach), B1456
LocaleIpswich (east) and Wherstead (west)
Maintained byHighways England
Preceded byStoke Bridge
DesignTwin box girder bridge
MaterialPre-stressed reinforced concrete
Total length1,000 metres (3,300 ft)
Width24 metres (79 ft)
Height43 metres (141 ft)
Longest span190 metres (620 ft)
No. of spans18
ArchitectFrederick Gibberd Partners
Engineering design bySir William Halcrow & Partners[1]
Constructed byStevin Construction B.V.
Fabrication byHøsveis & Bofa
Construction startOctober 1979
Construction endApril 1982
Construction cost£23.6m
Inaugurated17 December 1982
Orwell Bridge is located in Suffolk
Orwell Bridge
Orwell Bridge
Location in Suffolk

The Orwell Bridge is a concrete box girder bridge just south of Ipswich in Suffolk, England. Opened to road traffic in 1982, the bridge carries the A14 road (formerly the A45 road) over the River Orwell.



The main span is 190 metres which, at the time of its construction, was the longest pre-stressed concrete span in use in the UK. The two spans adjacent to the main span are 106m, known as anchor spans. Most of the other spans are 59m. The total length is 1,287 metres from Wherstead to the site of the former Ipswich Airport. The width is 24 metres with an air draft of 43 metres; the bridge had to be at least 41 metres high. The approach roads were designed by CH Dobbie & Partners of Cardiff,[2] later bought by Babtie, Shaw and Morton then Jacobs in 2004.

The bridge is constructed of a pair of continuous concrete box girders with expansion joints that allow for expansion and contraction. The girders are hollow, allowing for easier inspection, as well as providing access for services, including telecom, power, and a 711mm water main from the nearby Alton Water reservoir. The necessary inspections still cause major disruption to traffic every six years; during the inspection in the summer of 2005, the delays caused by lane closures and speed restrictions added between 30 and 60 minutes to journey times during the peak commuting periods.[citation needed]

Approach from the east in November 2006, north of Orwell Country Park at the Shell Orwell services[3]

The bridge design took into consideration the impact on the Orwell Estuary, as well as the needs of the port of Ipswich. The location close to the southern edge of Ipswich was deemed convenient for the industrial areas of the West Bank Terminal and Ransomes Industrial Estate on the eastern end. The bridge was set at an angle to the river to get the best relationship to the surrounding terrain.

The air draft of the central span was chosen to be as low as possible without adversely affecting port operations. Although some have said that the resulting hump affects visibility and road safety, there have not been enough incidents causing injury for the Highways Agency to identify it for greater detailed investigation and possible amendments.[4] The consulting engineers were Sir William Halcrow and Partners. Frederick Gibberd Partners worked on the project to ensure the bridge was as sympathetic as possible to its surroundings, with the final design winning the approval of the Royal Fine Art Commission.

The Department for Transport funded the project and, partly because of the bridge, paid for radars and cameras to be installed at the port's Orwell Navigation Service to monitor the river and the bridge.


Pilings were sunk 40 metres into the river bottom; Pigott Foundations of Ormskirk drilled 1142 piles; the main contractor of the substructure was Stevin Construction B.V., a Dutch company. The main span was constructed using a balanced cantilever technique, casting sections on alternating sides of the pier in a weekly cycle. Høsveis & Bofa of Hønefoss in Norway helped form the box girder (steelwork). The roller bearings were from Maurer AG of Germany. Mageba UK (Swiss) of Bicester supplied the bridge bearings and expansion joints. The pre-stressed concrete box girder sections had VSL tendons and GKN super-strand wire rope. The construction gantries were fabricated by Fairfield Mabey.

View in March 2010

It was part of the first part of the Ipswich Bypass; the contract for both approach roads was given to Costain (£10.7m, eastern) and Cementation (£9.3m, western). For this section of the bypass, Robert McGregor & Sons, subcontracting to Cementation laid 6,900m of concrete in 48 days with a slipform paver; Costain laid 10,400m of concrete in 31 days with a concrete train.

Construction of the bridge commenced in October 1979 and was completed 1 April 1982. It was opened on 17 December 1982 by David Howell, Baron Howell of Guildford, then the Secretary of State for Transport.


Bridge bearing replacement works were carried out by Jackson Civil Engineering Ltd during a 52-hour closure of the north deck, carrying the eastbound A14, over the weekend of 11–14 February 2011. The new bridge bearings were designed and manufactured by the engineering company, Freyssinet Ltd.[5]

In February 2014 a meeting of various agencies was held to review to review diversions when A14 and Orwell Bridge are forced to close.[6]

Speed limit[edit]

A permanent reduced speed limit of 60 mph was introduced in November 2015 for safety reasons.[7]

View from the air in February 2010 from an aircraft en route to Stansted from Prague


The Stour and Orwell Walk passes over the bridge.


As of 2006 the bridge was used by 60,000 vehicles per day, about 83% of its capacity.[8] In 2006 it was predicted that the bridge is expected to be running over capacity by 2015.[9]


Total closures[edit]

When the bridge is closed in both directions for more than a short period of time, normally as a safety precaution due to high winds, most of Ipswich's roads are brought to a near-standstill by diverted traffic.[10][11]

Date Duration (hours) Reason Note
30 April 2019[12] 1.5 hours Police Incident
16 March 2019[13] 4 hours High winds
13 March 2019[14] 8 hours High winds Storm Gareth
29 November 2018[15] 4 hours High winds
24 January 2018[16] 5+ hours High winds Storm Georgina
18 January 2018[17] 3 hours High winds Storm Fionn
3 January 2018[18] 17 hours High winds Storm Eleanor
20 October 2017[19] 8 hours Traffic collision Fatal crash (6:45am to 2:50pm)
23 February 2017[10] 5+ hours High winds Storm Doris
22 November 2016[11][20] 5+ hours High winds Storm Angus
28 March 2016[21] 5+ hours High Winds Storm Katie
1 July 2015[22] 0-1 hours Suicide / Attempted Suicide
15 April 2015[22] 1-1.5 hours Road Traffic Collision
16 December 2014[22] 1-1.5 hours Pedestrian
29 October 2014[22] 0-1 hours Suicide / Attempted Suicide
21 July 2014[22] 0-1 hours Suicide / Attempted Suicide
13 June 2014[22] 0-1 hours Pedestrian
14 February 2014[23] 5+ hours High winds 2013–14 United Kingdom winter floods
28 October 2013[24] 5+ hours High winds St. Jude storm
4 March 2012[22][25] 5+ hours Road Traffic collision Bridge closed from 8pm on 4th to 3am on 5th.

Popular culture[edit]

The bridge appears in the 1987 Cold War drama The Fourth Protocol, in which two RAF helicopters are shown flying under it, and at the end of the 2013 film The Numbers Station.


  1. ^ IABSE
  2. ^ IHT The Highway Engineer January 1983
  3. ^ Shell Orwell
  4. ^ Chenery, Roger (4 February 2005). "Road safety on the A14 around Ipswich". Highways Agency.
  5. ^ "Freyssinet Bearing Replacement on A14 Orwell Bridge" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 August 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  6. ^ "Ipswich/Suffolk: Summit to look at diversions when A14 and Orwell Bridge are forced to close".
  7. ^ "Safety improvement work begins on Orwell Bridge".
  8. ^ "Newmarket to Felixstowe Corridor Study (Section 4.16)" (PDF). East of England Regional Assembly. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 19 June 2006.
  9. ^ "Port of Felixstowe South Reconfiguration Evidence (Section 7.4)" (PDF). Planning Inspectorate. Retrieved 19 June 2006.
  10. ^ a b "A14 Orwell Bridge to stay open today as region deals with aftermath of Storm Doris".
  11. ^ a b "Orwell Bridge fully reopens after high winds closed A14 over the river and caused traffic disruption for thousands around Ipswich".
  12. ^ "Highways England on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  13. ^ "Highways England on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  14. ^ "Highways England on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 13 March 2019.
  15. ^ "Highways England on Twitter". Twitter. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  16. ^ "Orwell Bridge CLOSED due to high winds". Ipswich Star. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  17. ^ Hirst, Andrew. "Will the A14, Orwell Bridge, close in Suffolk due to high winds? Suffolk police reopen the bridge". Ipswich Star. Retrieved 18 January 2018.
  18. ^ Howlett, Adam. "A14 Orwell Bridge reopens before evening rush hour". Ipswich Star. Retrieved 5 January 2018.
  19. ^ "A14 Orwell Bridge opens after being closed for 8 hours after fatal traffic collision".
  20. ^ "Orwell Bridge in Suffolk re-opens".
  21. ^ "Storm Katie wreaks havoc across the East".
  22. ^ a b c d e f g "Orwell Bridge Closures".
  23. ^ "Suffolk/Essex: Orwell Bridge due to re-open this morning following strong overnight winds".
  24. ^ "Big storm: Orwell Bridge reopened in both directions as St Jude's storm begins to subside".
  25. ^ No further details of this incident available from local news outlets such as East Anglian Daily Times

External links[edit]