As yet another West London flyover or viaduct undergoes emergency repairs, inconveniencing many car drivers in the process, questions need to be asked about their long term life; whether to rebuild or replace them and further, how to make the Highways Agency more accountable to Londoners.
For some of us it’s come as no surprise that we’ve had to endure a weekend when the Highway Agency have shut-off the M4 between junction 1 and 3 and in particular along the elevated M4 going through Brentford (Boston Manor viaduct). This has resulted in a great deal of disruption to traffic in West London and my understanding is that problems have been ongoing since April. The closure is set to continue until Thursday (12th) whilst the Agency undertake work, installing plates on hairline cracks in the concrete of the elevated M4.
The identification of a new crack on the damaged Boston Manor viaduct has forced the closure of the M4 between London and Heathrow airport – a key section along the Olympic Route Network – for up to five days, the Agency states.
The Agency said the new crack had been identified in a “sensitive location” following overnight works last night. Site workers were embarking on the final stages of the complex repairs to 15mm long hairline cracks discovered by chance in April in welds on the viaduct just west of junction 2 in Hounslow.
A 7.5t weight restriction on the damaged stretch had already been imposed since April, diverting coaches and lorries onto busy local roads.
The Agency said it expected to have the ongoing remedial work completed to enable the viaduct to open in time for the start of the Olympic Games later this month. Lets hope so, as the affected section is on the Olympic Route Network and will be used to carry coaches travelling to and from Heathrow airport and the Olympic Park in East London.
Although these are the immediate concerns. In the long term, we need to assess all the flyovers and viaducts particularly in West London as the engineers who have working on the repairs of the M4 are informally saying that it only has a further 5 year life span. The Hammersmith flyover had to be repaired suddenly in March and April and now the elevated M4 in Brentford. What next. the Westway flyover going over North Kensington & Paddington?
If such critical infrastructure have come to the end of their working life, then we need to start thinking of how to replace or rebuild them properly to ensure theri longgevity. For example, with the Hammersmith flyover, there have been suggestions of having a tunnel instead. What ever the options, the Highway Agency must be up front about it to Londoners. At the sametime, it should be accountable to us via the GLA set-up rather then to the Department of Transport as a quango. This will allow elected London politicans to hold the Agency to account for their management and maintenance of critical infrastructure. I trust that isn’t asking for too much!