East Street blues

Published on 12 June 2017

Back in August 2016, East Street bridge - a footbridge across the M20 between junctions 3 and 4 - was struck by an overheight lorry and the southern half of the structure collapsed onto the road, leaving the northern half hanging rather alarmingly in mid-air over the eastbound motorway.

The story has long since left the news and Highways England are being rather quiet about plans to replace it with a new structure - or whether they'll take the opportunity to make the replacement wider to make future widening or Smart Motorway works a bit easier.

But East Street is still there, and the people living either side of the motorway who used it for years to get from one half of their village to the other are still there. So what's there now and what are the prospects for rebuilding it?

North of the motorway, East Street is a narrow, single track road with big houses hidden away behind the hedges. The turning space at the end reveals a number of big gates and long driveways and a little path running away between trees. A notice is posted on laminated A4 paper at this point, courtesy Kent County Council, to say the public right of way has been temporarily closed due to a "damaged footbridge", which is a level of understatement that should probably qualify for some kind of award.

The spiral ramp and south pier of the bridge, still standing. Click to enlarge
The spiral ramp and south pier of the bridge, still standing. Click to enlarge

You can walk past the notice and down the path and within a minute or so you arrive at a typical post-and-rail motorway boundary fence with rushing traffic beyond it, and a space where a bridge probably ought to be. At the far side, a spiral ramp climbs up to the top of a concrete pier where it stops at a temporary safety fence, and in the central reservation and the verge the safety barriers have obviously been recently repaired.

The collapsed bridge beam was at the far side from here, connecting to that spiral ramp, so the fact it's gone should be no surprise. But when it went it left behind the north side of the bridge which cantilevered out over the eastbound carriageway of the motorway in a morbidly fascinating way, though it was actually perfectly safe.

The leftover section with its precarious-looking overhang had to go, of course, and so it was duly demolished.

The north end of the bridge is now a ruin with rubble spilling down the embankment. Click to enlarge
The north end of the bridge is now a ruin with rubble spilling down the embankment. Click to enlarge

Up above the boundary fence, the footing of the north end of the former footbridge is still there, partly fenced off, with lumps of concrete scattered down the embankment and steel reinforcement bars sticking out here and there. The demolition job was clearly just that - demolition to a point where the bridge was gone and the road could be reopened - and removing the foundations of the structure or clearing the ground have been left for another time, presumably to be wrapped up in works to build a replacement bridge.

The fact that the spiral ramp on the south side of the M20 has been left in situ suggests that it's possible it will be retained, but the north end of the bridge was designed to hang over the M20 with the other half of the bridge resting upon it, and a new structure to a conventional design would struggle to reuse any part of it, so it's no surprise it's all been cleared away. The contractor responsible, A-one+, reported that a workforce of more than 100 people were involved in demolishing the northern section of the bridge and 100 tonnes of rubble were cleared away.

We'll return again, hopefully, when work begins to restore East Street to its former glory. There's no news yet on when that might happen.


Mark valentine 18 June 2017

Great new look for a cracking website. Just one comment/observation on the East St bridge. I live about a mile away in Wrotham Heath. I always thought that the bridge which crossed from a naturally higher point to what always struck me as an unusually low clearance at the point it was struck. If you look at several of the other bridges in the same area they are also strikingly low clearance on one side.
Not sure you can say the vehicle was over height, i saw it just after the accident and it was just a heavy duty crane of which there are many on the motorways.
I'm surprised nobody has taken issue with the other bridge clearances..


All motorway bridges have the same minimum clearance of 5m (or 16ft 6in in old money). Footbridges tend to be very lightweight so they are often given higher clearance to reduce the risk of something like this happening.

It may be that East Street bridge had only the minimum clearance of 5m, but it wouldn't have had less than that.

At the time this happened I was working for one of the design consultancies involved in the Smart Motorway scheme that is now taking place in the area. The bridge was known to be below the minimum for a footbridge, especially over the hard shoulder, and deciding what to do with it (before turning the hard shoulder was turned into a running lane) was on the to do list.

The load was indeed overheight, see news article here regarding the ensuing prosecution: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-42358249

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