The Severn Bridge
The Severn Bridge
The Severn Bridge cost £8m to construct and was opened by Queen Elizbaeth II on 8 September 1966. It replaced the vehicle ferry between Aust Cliff and Beachley Peninsula and carried the M4 motorway between England and Wales. The main section spans the Severn Estuary, while a small section nearby crosses the river Wye. The photo, by the late Hugh Pritchard, shows the new bridge in August 1968.
Two concrete piers, 988 metres apart, were built up from the bed of the estuary. The Aust pier rests on a limestone outcrop while the Beachley pier rests on hard mudstone. The bridge’s towers were made of high-tensile steel, weighing 2,700 tons in total. From these towers hang the suspension cables which hold up the deck.
Traffic on the bridge was exposed to high winds. This led to accidents, and routine closures in windy weather. Congestion began to occur at peak travel times, as traffic using the bridge increased by 63% from 1980 to 1990. In October 1990 a contract was signed for construction downstream of the Second Severn Crossing, to deal with growing traffic and provide a less wind-prone route over the estuary. The new bridge was constructed by a consortium, Severn River Crossing Plc, which also took on management of the original bridge. The agreement allows the consortium to recover its outlay on construction and maintenance through tolls on both bridges.
The new crossing became the M4 route over the estuary when it opened in 1996. The old bridge, which takes a less direct route, is now part of the M48 and provides a convenient route between Chepstow and the M4 in England. The path alongside the carriageways is part of National Cycle Network Route 4, which runs from Fishguard to London.