London road users have been warned to expect 16 weeks of delays due to the closure of one of the major bridges across the River Thames.
Work to repair the Edwardian Vauxhall Bridge began last night and will go on until late November. All cars have been blocked from using it in both directions while buses will continue to run southbound. Walkers and cyclists can still get across, for now.
Drivers were only given ten days notice of the major disruption, which Transport for London say is necessary to carry out ‘vital’ repair work on the creaking structure.
The first morning rush hour of the long closure has been branded a ‘disaster’ and a ‘nightmare’ with people complaining about the congestion and noise caused by the roadworks.
Vauxhall Bridge is the last crossing over the Thames before motorists enter the congestion zone, meaning drivers have to either queue for a long time and use Chelsea Bridge or pay £15 to go over Lambeth Bridge.
The local council has joined the criticism of TfL’s plans, saying it’s been poorly timed, given major works are under way at two nearby bridges at the same time.
Hammersmith Bridge has been shut since April last year after it was found to be unsafe, with no date in site for the reopening, and roadworks started on Wandsworth Bridge last month are expected to be in place for a year.
Motorists getting up this morning were greeted by long lines of traffic across the neighbouring areas of Vauxhall, Battersea and Chelsea.
Many took to social media to express their frustrations. One man wrote on Twitter; ‘The whole of London has been a complete ghost town for the past four months and they decide to start the work now…..whilst telling people to get out ’n about.’
Another local said ‘It’s a disaster out there right now. I live here and had to close all my windows due to the noise of about 100 buses queuing with their engines on in this weather. It is unbelievable. Someone needs to get down here now.’
Wandsworth Council’s transport spokesman John Locker said it was ‘disappointing’ that the river crossing has been closed off with ‘little advance warning and hardly any consultation.’
‘Of course it goes without saying that key infrastructure must be properly maintained,’ he said. ‘But the timing of this closure is not taking into account the works already underway at Wandsworth Bridge and the ongoing and seemingly intractable problem of getting Hammersmith Bridge reopened.
‘The knock-on effects of this will likely be significant extra congestion across Battersea and Nine Elms, which will become more acute once schools reopen and more lockdown measures are eased.’
Campaigner Michael Keane shared pictures showing traffic building up on Lambeth bridge and buses queuing to cross Vauxhall Bridge but said other areas seemed to be quieter than normal.
TfL is urging drivers to avoid the area or travel outside of peak times. Access for cyclists, walkers and southbound buses, coaches and taxis may be taken away as work progresses, the operator warned.
Nick Fairholme, from TfL, said: ‘The work to upgrade Vauxhall Bridge is critical to keep London moving. Vauxhall Bridge is a vital part of London’s road network and by doing this work now, we’re protecting it for decades to come.’
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