Vehicle restrictions during windy conditions on long span bridges

The Bridges

Around the UK, there area number of relatively long and high bridges across river estuaries, that all operate some sort of traffic restriction protocol in high wind conditions, to limit the risk of vehicle accidents. In this post, I will attempt to collate publically available information on these traffic restriction protocols to assess their similarities and differences.  It will be seen (surprisingly in my view) that this information is not at all easy to find and sometimes does not seem to be in the public domain. .

The bridges that will be considered are shown in Table 1, which gives name, location, construction type and length.  Pictures of them are given in figure 1. It can be seen that, with the exceptions of the Cleddau Bridge in South Wales and the Skye Bridge in Scotland, these are all over a kilometer long. The construction types vary, from concrete boxes on large numbers of concrete piers to long span suspension and cable stay structures. Only two bridges in the table have protection for vehicles against cross winds – the Prince of Wales (Second Severn) Bridge and the Queensferry Bridge in Edinburgh. All the bridges in the table have Wikipedia entries, which give further details of planning, construction and operation.

Table 1 The Bridges

Vehicle restrictions

The data for wind speed restrictions was found from a variety of sources – official documents, FOI releases, newspapers etc. The information that has been obtained is shown in Table 2. Most have a similar form, with different levels of restriction being used as the gust wind speed increases – vehicle speed limits, lane closures, restrictions to various classes of vehicles, and total closure. Most seem to base the wind speed values on local anemometers, although it is usually not clear where these are sited, and neither is the period of the gust given. Thus the values that are given are not strictly comparable with each other in absolute terms. 

Table 2 Wind speed restrictions 
(H- Headwind, C – Crosswind, * values are given in mph in table, but equivalent values in knots are used in practice)

From table 2 it can be seen that no data could be obtained for the Kessock Bridge, the Humber Bridge or the Prince of Wales (Second Severn) Bridge. With regard to the latter, vehicles crossing the bridge are shielded by wind fences and the bridge has not had to impose restrictions on traffic during its lifetime. Kessock probably has the same sort of traffic restriction strategy as the other Scottish bridges, as Transport Scotland operates a common approach. From press reports it seems that Humber has some sort of vehicle speed limit and high-sided vehicle restriction strategy, although it has not been possible to determine the wind speeds at which the different measures are put into place. . Also note that Queensferry has much higher values of wind speed for restrictions than the other bridges, again due to the fact that vehicles are protected by wind fences.

For the other bridges, there seems to be a general consistency in the information shown, with vehicle speed limits of either 30mph or 40mph imposed when the wind gusts over 35 to 50mph. Vehicle restrictions begin at gusts of around 45mph to 60mph, with double deck buses and high sided vehicles being restricted at the lower gust speeds. Further restrictions may be imposed on vehicles of different types, before overall bridge closure at wind speeds of 65 to 80mph. Some bridges use different gust speeds for cross winds and for headwinds. Orwell Bridge for example applies the crosswind criterion if the wind gust direction is from a sixty degree segment centred on the direction normal to the bridge. The Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at Dartford uses similar strategies to inform speed limits, lane closures, vehicle restrictions and bridge closure.

The restriction strategies depend very much on the nature of the traffic over the bridge and its location. For example, if only some vehicles are to be restricted, then some method of filtering them out and diverting them is required, which needs to take place at some distance from the bridge. Such procedures are in operation at Severn, Erskine, Humber and the Queen Elizabeth Bridges amongst others. Clearly ease of identification of vulnerable vehicles is required – see figure 2 for the Humber Bridge. Other bridges simply base their protocols on vehicle height eg 1.9m for Cleddau and 2.1m for Severn.

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Figure 2 Humber Bridge High sided Definition

Orwell Bridge operates a very simple strategy, with different gust speed triggers for crosswinds and headwinds, leading to complete closure, without any restrictions for, say, high sided vehicles at lower wind speeds. This arises because of the urban nature of its surroundings, which makes vehicle filtering difficult. This has led to a considerable number of closures in recent years, and much public concern. Recently both numerical and wind tunnel studies have been carried out to investigate ways in which this strategy can be modified, perhaps through the use of speed limits, lane restrictions or barriers. The details of these studies have not been released to date but may prove of some interest. Studies to relax the restrictions on Skye Bridge have also been recently carried out following frequent closures and public complaints.

As can be seen, the various restriction strategies are in general quite simple and easy to operate. This inevitably means that they are conservative and largely based on the most vulnerable vehicle – usually unladen high sided vehicles. There are in fact methods available for discriminating between vehicle types and vehicle weights – see the recent paper by Baker and Soper (2019) for example. This gives a method for determining a curve of accident wind speed against vehicle speed for specific vehicle type and weight, based on which restrictions strategies for any particular vehicle can be determined. However operational constraints make the full utilisation of such methods difficult. Until such time as vehicle type and vehicle weight can be automatically determined by (say) remote visualisation techniques and dynamic weight determination, and vulnerable vehicles can be suitably diverted, then the use of simple methods such as those currently adopted will remain the best that can be achieved.

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