The Art Of Building Bridges

Posted by Viktoria Michaelis on March 23, 2015 in News & Opinion |

I am sometimes at a loss to understand the mentality of those who put something off, or seek out an alternative, in order to save money in the short-term, knowing full well that a long-term solution must be found. There are two wonderful instances of this form of money-saving in our local area at the moment, and neither one of them looks as if it is going to end the way politicians and accountants wish the ordinary people to believe.

The first instance is a footbridge spanning the river Weser in Nienburg. It was, at the time of its opening fifteen years ago, lauded as a technological marvel, an architectural wonder, a boon to mankind. Well, perhaps not quite so high in the laudatory ratings, but close enough. The problems began with the bridge almost as soon as it was opened to the public, but were carefully covered as ‘teething problems’ at the time. Now, fifteen years later, the problems are here to stay, and they are going to be expensive. The metal parts of the bridge are rusting away. The foot way is breaking up as slabs of whatever they used in the construction rub against one another. The concrete supports are breaking up. The company which constructed the bridge no longer exists, so there can be no claim for restitution there. There is no more to claim against those engineers and ‘experts’ who took the bridge over and passed it as suitable for public use.

Rather, there is a move to repair the bridge, but not at any cost. An engineering office has provided an estimate of how much repairs will cost, and puts the figure at about seven hundred and fifty thousand Euro. The answer from the politicians and bureaucrats in their accounting offices? They have brought in a second engineering firm to check the bridge, and expect to get a much cheaper estimate of repair costs as a result. Without a shadow of a doubt, they will then go for the cheaper model, and probably come together again in ten years time to consider repairs thanks to their short-term thinking.


Photo Source: Russ NelsonCreative Commons

The second instance has greater proportions. It is also a bridge, this time spanning the river Aller in Verden. Here, again, those in the seat of power decided that they didn’t want the massive costs of replacing the bridge. At least, not this year. The bridge has to be replaced, of that there is no doubt and all are agreed, but not this year. Rather, they decided to replace some of the metal supports, and blocked off parts of the bridge so that only single lane traffic could drive across, and no heavy trucks. To do this they brought in traffic lights, and placed them at almost the same positions as the traffic lights which had been removed a few months earlier, when a beautiful new ring road was opened.

The bridge has now been only open to single lane traffic for rather more than a year, and plenty of heavy trucks still roll across it, despite the weight restrictions, since there is no one to stop them, no checks whatsoever. On one river bank are open fields, on the other an old building which the town decided to knock down in order to build a new park house. This area, from one bank to the other, would be ideal for a temporary bridge to alleviate traffic problems while the new bridge is being built, in a similar fashion to the temporary bridge built next to the second bridge across the river which was completed a few years ago.

Bearing this in mind, and knowing that there is a need to replace the bridge, the town knocked down the older building but, rather than using this ideal opening for something sensible, they began building the new parking area. A temporary bridge is no longer possible here, there isn’t the room for traffic.

Last week the engineering firm responsible for the new, temporary, metal supports being inserted under the bridge, began their work. There were hopes that the traffic congestion caused by the partial closure of the bridge would be at an end. Sadly, it is not to be. Someone made a major mistake whilst either inserting a new support, or making space for a new support. The bridge was rendered unsafe, even for lighter traffic, and is now closed completely. The town and other higher authorities involved in this planning catastrophe are now considering replacing the bridge completely. The problems they have to consider are clear: how to find the money for such a project since it will now be considerably more expensive than if they had just done the right thing in the first place; where to send the traffic which needs to cross the river, but cannot use the second bridge.

I sometimes wonder whether the people in these offices, whose jobs are often protected and who cannot be fired, have even the slightest notion of what they are doing. Have any of them been trained in town planning, or do they just look at the costs and try to find a cheaper one according to whether it is an election year or not? Either way, these two German cities, both of which are facing empty treasuries, are now faced with problems of a magnitude beyond their financial capabilities. Problems which could have been avoided if those in charge, those with the authority to do it properly the first time, had bothered to do their job efficiently and with a longer term view.

  • Viktoria Michaelis.

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  • chris says:

    In our vicinity they recently completed a new road and pedestrian bridge over a busy railway line. One side is a long slope at about 35 degrees and the other something more like a skijump. The whole thing is very long, because it crosses the rails diagonally. That is OK for motor vehicles, but the people on foot, with a baby-carriage, or a wheelchair were better off before, when they just had to wait for the train to pass and the gates to open.

  • […] to a time scale and financial budget, and attention to detail. Which may well remind people of that little post I wrote back in March on bridge […]

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