The Severn Bridge

button_lang_frenchThe Severn Bridge

The Severn Bridge cost £8m to construct and was opened by Queen Elizabeth 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. The road continues on a smaller section across the river Wye and, a little further west, over the Wales Coast Path.

photo_of_severn_bridgeThe 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.

An innovative form was developed for the deck to streamline it against the strong winds which sweep along the estuary. The edge of the deck on each side is like a blade, and the wind is smoothly directed over or under the deck. Without this aerodynamic design, the bridge deck would have been much heavier to withstand the wind pressures, which in turn would have required bigger and more expensive support structures.

The high winds caused many accidents, and the bridge was often closed during gales. 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 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.

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