A MAJOR £5.5m operation to replace a rusting century-old steel bridge carrying one of the New Forest’s busiest roads is set to start next year bringing months of road closures and diversions for drivers.
Hampshire County Council has approved funding for a new Holmsley Bridge to be built of concrete next year on a quarter-mile realigned section of the A35 near Burley, using Forestry Commission land to carry it over the C10 Station Road.
To minimise traffic disruption, the new bridge will be built parallel to the existing crossing which will be demolished when construction is complete.
But the council warned there will be closures on both the A35 and Station Road at times during the project.
Work is due to start in the autumn with utility diversions and ecological clearance, once planning consent has been granted by the national park authority and tenders approved.
The main part of the operation is scheduled to start in early 2020 and take about 40 weeks. Motorists will have to endure regular signed diversions from full and partial road closures on both the A35 and C10.
To get the go-ahead for such a protected site, the county council will need a range of permissions, including from the verderers, national park authority, Forestry Commission, and environment regulator Natural England.
The green light on HCC’s side was given by the cabinet member for environment and transport, Cllr Rob Humby, who said the two-bridge procedure was to minimise traffic disruption.
He said: “We have known that the bridge was deteriorating and that we would need to replace it and to keep the route open for as long as possible.
“Last summer the speed limit was reduced, we installed temporary barriers, and added additional steel supports under the bridge. We’ve essentially been saving up for this work since 2012.
“The new single span integral concrete bridge will minimise maintenance costs, while the improvements to A35 will enhance drainage in the area and ensure safer travel on this key route through the New Forest.”
An HCC report said: “The existing bridge currently has quarterly monitoring inspections and would require further propping and repairs at an approximate annual cost of £120,000 if not replaced.”
A council spokesperson said the plans were still being worked on and should be finalised by mid-March.
“The estimate is that the tender will be out by late summer/early autumn 2019 depending on the planning application outcome. The tender period will be approximately 6-7 weeks long,” she added.
The badly-corroded metal bridge was built in 1908, replacing a brick arch, to carry the A35 over the Brockenhurst to Ringwood section of the old Southampton and Dorchester Railway dating from 1847 that ran along what is now Station Road.
The current bridge is one of the oldest redundant railway structures in Hampshire, having had nothing to do with trains since the railway closed over half a century ago in 1964.
The track was replaced by the C10 Station Road in the 1970s when it was handed over to the county council by British Rail Board (Residuary) Ltd. The bridge was also transferred just over six years ago.
Holmsley’s Old Station Tea Rooms, in what was originally called Christchurch Road Station, will be open for business throughout the works.
Cllr Humby said HCC has been working “closely and extensively” with the New Forest authorities to ensure the scheme is carried out “sensitively”, as well as consulting local councillors, residents and businesses.
NPA executive director of strategy and planning Steve Avery said: “Hampshire County Council are submitting a planning application and environmental statement for the proposed work on Holmsley railway bridge.
“The work can commence only if the planning application is approved. We are currently considering a ‘scoping opinion’ submitted to us by the county council, which seeks clarification on what must be included in the environmental statement.”
The crossing over the C10 Station Road was supported with props in August last year after being monitored by HCC since it took over responsibility for it from the rail authorities in 2012. It currently has a 40mph safety limit imposed on the 60mph route.
The new alignment will straighten the road and move it away from the tea rooms and nearby cottages.