1410 metres or so of suspension bridge crossing the river Humber just upstream of Hull, UK. At the time of construction, the longest single span bridge in the world. The reasons for its construction are shrouded in mystery, since very little actual traffic has much reason to use it (particularly after the completion of the M62 link to Hull which is used by most traffic going there from the south); indeed, most of the traffic on the ferry from Hull to New Holland which it replaced consisted of students attracted by the prospect of all-day drinking on the boat at a time when British licensing laws closed normal pubs and bars at about the time students get up and didn't open them again until after tea.

Was it an ill-conceived attempt to unite the historically separate territories of East Riding of Yorkshire and Lincolnshire Parts of Lindsey which were temporarily to become North and South Humberside in the not terribly popular local government reorganisation of 1971? Is it the first step in a secret plan to build a new North-South motorway paralleling the M1 and A1 and despoiling the empty but dull Wolds landscape? Or was it just the accidental coming to fruition of an idea some civil servant or government transport minister had when pissed?

We may never know.

Once the largest single span suspension bridge in the world, the Humber Bridge is a significant landmark both on the Northeast's landscape, and within British engineering history. Weighing in at 480,000 tonnes of concrete and steel, the Humber Bridge spans the 1,410 metres of River Humber between Kingston-upon-Hull and Barton-on-Humber, connecting Yorkshire to the north with Lincolnshire in the south.

The bridge itself is a traditional suspension bridge design. Two main towers are anchored in place, and used to hold twisted steel cables in place, which are anchored to their respective shores at Hessle and Barton. These main cables are made up of 14,948 twisted steel wires, and are around 0.68 meters wide. From these immensely strong main cables, a deck structure is suspended from smaller hanger ropes, again made from twisted steel cables. The deck is wide enough for pedestrian and cycle paths, as well dual two-lane carriageways, which form an extension of the A15(T) road.

Building the bridge

The site of the bridge has long been a site for crossing of the estuary, dating right back to Roman times. Until the early eighties when the bridge was opened, a small ferry service was run to for transport from one side of the river to the other. However, in 1959 the government passed The Humber Bridge Act of 1959, which formed a committee of local councilors, with an aim to "construct, operate, maintain and administer the bridge". It would not be until the April of 1969, ten years later, that the site and decision to actually build a bridge would be rubber-stamped and the process of planning could commence. From that moment, the Humber Bridge project began. The bridge would not be completed and opened to the public until 1981, four years late, and massively in debt.

Timetable of events

1959: Humber Bridge Act

Government agrees to the need for a bridge, and creates this act to entrust the building and maintenance of the bridge to the Humber Bridge Board, which (to this day) consists of 22 members from the councils of Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire, the East Riding and the city of Kingston-upon-Hull.

April 1969: Government confirms plans to build bridge

The government decides that yes, there is a valid need for the bridge and agrees to discuss planning and funding with the members of the Humber Bridge Board.

May 1971: Loan funding agreed and detailed designs created

It was agreed that the building of the bridge would be funded by a government loan, which would be repaid by toll fees. The bridge still operates under this principle, and is still repaying its debts. The bridge was designed by Freeman Fox and Partners, who are now known as Acer Freeman.

March 1973 - July 1976: Construction of the structure

Finally actual construction work begins, four years too late according to original plans. Over the next six years, the towers, road structure sections and anchors would be constructed by a number of contractors and gradually put into position. Unfortunately, the vast inflation and worker's strikes of the eighties hit the project hard, as it atypically bad weather, and the construction was delayed repeatedly. Despite all the delays and debt, the structure remains a modern engineering masterpiece, on a truly amazing scale. Such is the size of the towers and the distances involved, the tops of each tower are two centimeters further apart than the bottoms, to allow for the curvature of the Earth.

September 1977 - July 1979: Steel cables spun together

There is a lot of steel cabling holding the bridge together: so much, in fact, that it took almost two years to spin it all together into the cables required. In total, there are 71,000 kilometres of cable, holding 19,400 tonnes between them.

October 1979 - July 1980: Bridge sections erected and construction finalised

With all the individual components completed and all the steel cabling ready, the bridge could be put together and the structure finalised. With the bridge completed, the roads leading to the bridge could be completed and final load testing and safety checks could be completed before opening the bridge to the public.

June 24, 1981: Bridge finally opened to traffic

Four years later than planned, and many millions of pounds over budget, the bridge was finally opened to the public, using a toll fee system to generate revenue to start paying back the government loans that made it all possible.

Funding, debt and the future of the bridge

The original plan for the bridge was that the proceeds made from the toll charged for passage would be used to both maintain the bridge, and to slowly pay back the loans used to fund its construction. All very well and god in theory, but inflation and the mass delays that hit the construction project meant that the toll money could not even keep pace with the interest owned, and the debts incurred by the Humber Bridge Board spiraled out of control. Between 1992 and 1998, the government made additional grants to the board to prevent further debt mounting, before finally consolidating the debt in 1998 into a single loan with a reduced interest rate. Some of the debt was written off, leaving the estimated total at around £435 million.

Since then, approximately a further £70 million has been paid back, and at current rates the bridge should break even in around forty years. Last year, six-hundred and twenty-one thousand vehicles crossed the bridge.

Contact details

You can get in contact with the Humber Bridge Board at the following addresses:

Humber Bridge Board
Ferriby Road
East Yorkshire
Tel: +44 (0) 1482 647161
Fax: +44 (0) 1482 640838

Resources and Bibliography

  • The Humber Bridge Board
  • The River Humber: The Humber Suspension Bridge
  • Personal knowledge, living not too far away and walking across it for "fun".

Created as part of wertperch's UK tourism quest.
Everything Quests: Places to visit in Ireland and the UK » A Tourist Guide to Northeast England

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