Hammersmith bridge was placed on “amber alert” this week as unseasonably high temperatures increased the risk of it collapsing into the Thames.
Thermometers are being fitted to the deteriorating 133-year-old cast iron structure, and the suspension chains are being cooled with water. Engineers warned that if the chains reach 22.5C a “red alert” will be declared.
The bridge was closed to vehicles in April last year, and then to pedestrians and cyclists last month when the “dangerous micro-fractures” widened in the cast iron pedestals that hold the suspension system in place.
Details of the precarious state of the bridge emerged today in a letter from Hammersmith and Fulham council leader Steve Cowan to Transport minister Baroness Vere, sent ahead of the first meeting, on Wednesday, of a “taskforce” established by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to get the bridge reopened.
Mr Cowan said his council and Richmond council both wanted a temporary solution “in place ASAP – especially by the time the clocks go back” on October 25.
A ferry crossing is being considered but piers or pontoons would have to be built, and high and low tides are a problem. A temporary walking and cycling bridge would cost £27.3m and take nine months to build.
It is understood that the key question of who foots the bill for the bridge repairs was taken off the table at the taskforce meeting.
Hammersmith and Fulham, which owns the bridge, and Transport for London, which has seen its income devastated by a fall in passengers due to Covid restrictions, say they cannot afford to pay. TfL has already provided £25m for interim investigations.
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “Our taskforce is already considering potential temporary measures, such as a ferry service, and we will sort this matter for Londoners as soon as we can.”
Yesterday it emerged that the cost of fully restoring the bridge to allow it to be reopened to cars and buses could be as high as £163m. Stabilising the bridge to allow it to be reopened just to cyclists and pedestrians would cost £46m.
It came as the war of words between Labour-run Hammersmith and Fulham and the Tory Government showed no sign of abating.
Mr Cowan’s letter urged Baroness Vere to agree that the bridge should not become “a party-political football”.
But he then went on to criticise her boss, Mr Shapps, for posing with Tory mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey on the bridge and making “misleading” comments about the council's efforts to date to get the bridge reopened.
Mr Cowan wrote: “I am concerned Mr Shapps appears to have primarily viewed Hammersmith bridge through the prism of party politicking.”
He also asked for “clarification of the advisory role played by Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham and the campaign manager for the Conservative mayoral candidate”.
Mr Hands told the Standard: “If H&F council put half as much effort into repairing and reopening the bridge as they do in personal attacks on Conservative politicians, we would all be much better off.
“The last 18 months has been a record of shocking incompetence from them and I am pleased the Government has now stepped in to get this sorted out.”