By Alex Metcalfe LDRS
Cars crossing the Tees on the Transporter Bridge could be a thing of the past if council chiefs opt for a new plan for the 109-year-old structure.
The bridge was closed in the summer of 2019 and hasn’t opened since after stretched cables on the gondola were uncovered alongside other defects.
Now Middlesbrough Council leaders will decide whether to retire the bridge from carrying traffic on the back of a consultation on the Grade II* listed structure.
The council’s executive will be asked to approve an extra £655,000 for urgent repair work on the bridge this month before views are sought on its long-term use.
A consultation is set to be launched with two options on the table for the 223ft high structure.
Executive papers show it would cost £4m over 10 years to open the bridge purely as a visitor attraction.
On the other hand, the council says the full cost of reopening the bridge to traffic at rush hour could come to more than £7m in the next decade.
Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “The Transporter Bridge is part of who we are and we will always preserve and protect this special part of Teesside.
“Exactly what role it will play for the next 100 years is a decision we should all consider together.”
The council has already put £377,000 towards making the bridge safe, parking the gondola and carrying out inspections.
A stark presentation to go before the corporate affairs and audit committee next week has revealed considerable cause for concern and a raft of failings in the maintenance of the steel structure.
Health and safety worries about the overall maintenance and management of the bridge were sent to the council’s internal auditor in August last year.
And a subsequent probe by auditors found cause for considerable concern.
The investigation found “mostly passive and ineffective” management of the bridge in the past decade.
And it ruled a lack of specifically qualified or trained engineering staff ultimately led the bridge deteriorating to become a health and safety risk.
As a result of the failures, officials say the council is lining up a review of its system for assessing other buildings and structures.
Until it shut in 2019, the Transporter was the longest working bridge of its kind in the world.
In recent years it has become a visitor attraction with use for extreme sports including abseils, bungee jumps and zip-slides.
Work was carried out on the Grade II-listed bridge in 2012 after cracks were found in the rail tracks on the upper booms of the structure.
Welding repairs were also carried out that year.
But in December 2019, Cllr Dennis McCabe told councillors how structural defects had been found in some members of the steelwork attached by welding years ago.
“We couldn’t put rivets in – but we could have put high tensile rivet bolts in,” he said.
“You put welds on a structure which will move and contract through linear contraction – and those welds will eventually break.
“If they’d bolted it, you would have a bit of movement and you wouldn’t have the problems with structural defects.”
Officers say the consultation on the Transporter will include detailed discussions with Stockton Council, the Department for Transport, Historic England and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Executive members will discuss the plans on December 22.