The Canal & River Trust is asking speeding motorists to slow down when crossing the 200-year-old hump-back bridges that span the Kennet & Avon Canal.
Damage caused by speeding motorists causes up to £1million of repairs to bridges each year nationwide, with an average of one bridge strike every week.
The trust, which cares for 2,800 historical bridges, has highlighted the plight of two bridges in Pewsey and Devizes that have been the scene of repeated major incidents.
They are the Pewsey Bridge 114, at The Wharf, which has been severely damaged twice, most recently in May and Horton Road Bridge 134, on the outskirts of Devizes, which has suffered repeated damage to copings and brickwork, most recently in September.
Temporary traffic lights and damage still remains at the Pewsey Wharf bridge which was hit by a white Transit van that overturned after failing to negotiate the bridge last May.
Hump-back bridges, synonymous with Britain’s canal network, were built for the passage of horse-drawn carts, not for today’s speeding motorists. The majority of accidents are ‘hit and run’, leaving the Trust unable to recoup the cost of the damage from drivers’ insurers, and diverting vital funds away from work to conserve the nation’s waterways.
The Trust has now taken the unprecedented step of installing its first CCTV to catch motorists at an accident hump-back hot spot on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal near Kidderminster.
Caunsall Bridge, which has been hit six times in the last 18 months, is currently undergoing £30,000 of repairs to its parapet following damage from a motorist. If the trial is successful, the Trust will look at installing sensors at other hotspots across the 2,000 miles of canals and rivers in its care.
Nigel Crowe, the Canal & River Trust’s head of heritage, said: “Whenever you go over a hump-back bridge in Britain you are likely to be going over a canal. These bridges are unique, many are listed as being of special architectural or historical significance, and when damaged they need to be painstakingly repaired at considerable cost.
“We’ve taken the unusual steps to install the sensor to this particular bridge as it has been repeatedly hit over the last few years.
“If it is a success, we’ll look to install similar sensors to other hump-back accident hot spots. We are also working with the local authorities to improve signage and road markings, but frankly, if motorists just slowed down a bit and took more care and attention then they would stop this daily vandalism of our heritage.
“It really isn’t rocket science – if you see a hump-back bridge sign then slow down and you will save yourself and us a great deal of expense and aggravation.”