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The Bridge as a local Utility
Whitchurch Bridge is a busy river crossing carrying the B471 over the River Thames between Whitchurch-on-Thames in Oxfordshire and Pangbourne in Berkshire. The nearest alternative crossings are at Caversham Bridge in Reading, about 6 miles downstream, and at Streatley-on-Thames, about 5 miles upstream.
The Bridge is particularly important as a link between the rural areas north of the Thames and the shops, banks, public transport and other services in Pangbourne.
The Company's Corporate Social Responsibility Statement sets out the principles within which the Company operates.
A traffic counting and classification system, supplied by Golden River Traffic Ltd, is installed at the Toll Booth. The system consists of wire loops under the road surface and computer software which counts and classifies vehicles, according to their axle configuration, within pre-defined time intervals.
Around 5,800 vehicles cross the Bridge during a typical working day (over 24 hours) in school term time. Annual traffic levels peaked in 2004 at about 2,100,000 crossings, and since then there has been a downward trend of about 2 % per year. The reasons for this are not clear, but may reflect the fact that more people now work from home for at least part of the time. There are fewer crossing during school holidays, and local events such as the Reading Rock Festival, Woodcote Steam Rally and the Goring Heath Horse Trials generate extra traffic.
During weekday rush hours traffic queues often build up on the Bridge and its approaches because of congestion on the roads in Pangbourne and Whitchurch-on-Thames. The Company takes care to manage the Toll collection process so as to minimise delays to traffic at the Toll Booth - drivers can help by having their Bridge Card or the correct cash Toll ready, and if possible by paying for Bridge Card top-ups outside the rush hours.
There is an advisory 20mph speed limit over the Bridge and its approach roads.
About 50% of crossings are paid for using Bridge Cards (click here for details of Bridge Cards).
The axle counting and Bridge Card systems together provide the Whitchurch Bridge Company with valuable management and internal control information including financial audit trails from the number of vehicle crossings to Toll receipts - by Bridge Card and by cash - and to cash banked.
There is a statutory weight limit of 7.5 tonnes mgw on the Bridge. This is widely signed by the local Highways authority on the approaches to the Bridge, but notwithstanding this signage overweight vehicles travelling southwards sometimes arrive at the Toll Booth. Toll collectors are instructed to refuse such vehicles permission to cross, and to contact the Police to resolve any traffic congestion issues and assist in turning long vehicles. This usually involves the vehicle reversing back up the B471, through Whitchurch-on-Thames, causing further traffic delays.
There is also a local environmental weight limit in Whitchurch-on-Thames of 7.5 tonnes mgw. The Police have powers to prosecute the drivers of vehicles which contravene this weight limit.
The local road network is unsuitable for heavy vehicles, with narrow roads and one-way sections in both Whitchurch and Pangbourne. The low (11ft headroom) railway bridge in Pangbourne normally prevents heavy vehicles from approaching the Bridge from the south.
The Whitchurch Bridge Company does not wish to see heavy vehicles using its Bridge, and has agreed with Oxfordshire County Council that an enforceable 7.5 tonnes mgw weight limit can and will be retained on the Bridge following its reconstruction in 2013-14.