It's getting on for two years since Hammersmith Bridge was closed to cars, and just over five months since it was closed to pedestrians and cyclists, as well as boats going underneath.
It's time to have a look at what's happening now, and the various solutions that have been proposed.
The Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce was set up by the Department for Transport in September 2020 to work towards safely reopening the Hammersmith Bridge. The Taskforce is chaired by Baroness Vere and includes representatives from TfL, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, Network Rail, the Greater London Authority and the Port of London Authority.
Given that the Taskforce was set up to "bang heads together" and get the bridge fixed, they really haven't achieved a huge amount.
The Taskforce have outlined a phased plan for repairs to the bridge.
First, further work is needed to understand the condition of the pedestals that hold the bridge up. When this has been completed, and depending on the results of the investigation, there could be a controlled opening to pedestrians and cyclists by the summer.
According to the most recent statement by the Taskforce, the precise condition of the two western pedestals will not be known until blast cleaning works have been carried out. This is due to be completed by April 2021 and will make it possible to identify any hidden fractures in the pedestals.
Next, there will be emergency stabilisation work (7 months) followed by permanent stabilisation work (21 months). Throughout this period, it is hoped that controlled opening to pedestrians and cyclists will be possible.
Once the stabilisation work is finished the bridge can be permanently opened to pedestrians and cyclists. There would have to be a further 30 months of additional strengthening work to allow the bridge to reopen to motorised traffic.
There has been some bickering between the Taskforce and LBHF's own engineers, Mott MacDonald, about whether or not the reopening of the bridge to pedestrians and bicycles can be brought forward. It's pretty clear that the engineers won't allow it to be opened until the safety of people crossing it can be guaranteed.
There has also been some squabbling over the funding for repairs, which hasn't helped matters and has surely delayed any constructive progress.
In the meantime, of course, it's become quite urgent to find a solution that will allow people to cross the river once more.
Several proposals have been made for a ferry service, and these are being evaluated by the Taskforce at the moment.
I don't honestly think that a ferry service is a viable way of allowing sufficient numbers of people to cross the bridge. Any ferry will be constricted by the depth and/or the tide, which makes it difficult for a large enough vessel to run on a regular basis. I've written about this here.
However, one proposal does stand out for its ingenuity, because it uses pontoons to overcome the problems of the shallow sides of the river, and the tide itself to drive the ferry. You can read more here.
At any rate, we are being told that it is possible that a ferry will be running by spring 2021.
At the 4th February meeting of the Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce, it was noted that "The Taskforce also heard the latest from TfL regarding the procurement for the temporary ferry service, with details of the 3 shortlisted bidders expected to be announced in the next few weeks. The timing for services beginning will depend on the winning bidder’s proposals, though the need to have the ferry running as soon as possible is universally recognised."
So I guess we'll be watching this space to see what the three shortlisted schemes are.
There have been several proposals to build a temporary bridge to allow people to cross the river while the main bridge is being repaired.
This last option is now the subject of a feasibility study by LBHF. It's a pretty horrible idea: motorised traffic would travel on the upper deck of the bridge, while predestrians and bicyclists would be relegated to the gloom of the lower deck, and would have to suffer the noise and pollution from the cars above.
At the 4th February meeting of the Hammersmith Bridge Taskforce, it was noted that "London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham provided an update on the feasibility study commissioned into the Foster & Partners and COWI temporary bridge proposal. We currently expect this study to be completed in the next 3 weeks."
So at the time of writing (January 2021), we are waiting for: