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PFI delays trigger Portsmouth bridge crisis

DELAYS IN negotiating a long term maintenance contract for Portsmouth's roads have pushed one of the city's key bridges close to collapse, local MPs told transport minister John Spellar this week.

They have urged him to find emergency cash to rescue the corroded steel bridge in the city centre.

The city's two MPs, Mike Hancock and Sidney Rapson, have written to Spellar demanding the money for strengthening the 107 year old Copnor Road Bridge.

The structure takes traffic into and out of the city centre across the Portsmouth to London railway line.

The bridge is in danger of collapse because corrosion has seriously damaged steel girders and bearings. The structure is a three span steel trough deck supported on steel cross girders.

There are also cracks between the masonry parapet and abutments and on the footway and carriageway.

The £3.5M works were originally planned under a 25 year private finance initiative (PFI) road maintenance deal (NCE 11 November 1999).

But negotiations have taken at least a year longer than anticipated and work on the bridge is unlikely to start for another year.

'I believe there is a very compelling case for approval of an immediate supplementary bid and I look forward to your support and help on this matter, ' said Hancock's letter to Spellar.

As an emergency measure the bridge has been restricted to single lane running for the last three months. This has caused traffic chaos in Portsmouth resulting in tailbacks of up to 5km on the M275 into the city, said Portsmouth City Council assistant city engineer Jim Comport.

Repairing the bridge itself would then take 'at least 18 months' because of the need to secure track possessions from Network Rail.

'We can't last much longer, ' said Comport. 'The community is grinding to a halt.'

A Department for Transport spokesman said : 'We will look at the situation to see if there is anything we can do to help.'

Cash for road and bridge repair in Portsmouth has dried up during PFI talks.

'There has been no money for bridges in the last couple of years, ' said Comport. 'Last year we asked for £1M in bridge maintenance and we got £17,000.'

Amey and Colas have been shortlisted for the £250M, 25 year concession and are due to submit final bids in January.

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