Suffolk had the fourth highest number of substandard bridges of any local authority at the end of 2023.

Research by the RAC Foundation found 119 bridges managed by Suffolk County Council, 9% of the total number, were unable to carry the heaviest vehicle or failed to meet accidental vehicle loading requirements on verges.

Across Britain, 4% of bridges on Britain’s local roads were too weak to be used by 44-tonne lorries, down from 4.4% in 2022.

A representative from Suffolk County Council said: “Many of the 119 bridges reported as sub-standard are either provisionally sub-standard or considered to be very low risk.                                                                                                                                                                                                            "Several structures on the minor road network meet the standards for loading on the carriageway but fail to meet the standards for unplanned vehicle loading on the verges. These are generally considered to be low risk and subject to more frequent inspections.

East Anglian Daily Times: Boxted Bridge, which straddles the Suffolk-Essex borderBoxted Bridge, which straddles the Suffolk-Essex border (Image: Newsquest)

“All highway structures and temporary measures are subject to regular inspections to ensure that any deterioration in condition is identified.”

Temporary measures in place include weight restrictions, traffic management and increased frequency of inspections.

Devon was the local authority area with the most substandard bridges at 222, followed by Essex (148), Somerset (128), Suffolk (119) and Cheshire East (108).

It is estimated that the bridge maintenance work backlog across the country stands at £6.8bn.

Budget constraints mean local authorities anticipate only 292 of the 1,955 bridges identified as needing work within the next 5 years will be fixed.

Pressures like climate change, extreme weather, and a shortage of skilled engineers have exacerbated the decline in bridge quality.

RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding said: “This data should not be used as a stick to beat highway authorities with.

“It is unrealistic to think that there will be vastly more money added to the road and bridge maintenance pot but there are measures that could help stem the tide of decline, such as a real drive to recruit, train and retain engineers with the right expertise, plus the delivery of a fresh five-year funding settlement for local roads, which would at least allow highway teams to plan ahead.

“The real danger lies in the change in climate – more temperature extremes and more wind, rain, snow and ice put are putting an ever-greater strain on the foundations of our roads and the structures that carry them.”

Darren Rodwell, transport spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “Councils want to do all they can to maintain local highways infrastructure for residents and visitors.

“Despite their best efforts, funding constraints limit the amount that councils can do in fulfilling these duties.

“Long-term, consistent funding for all councils would provide certainty for them to properly plan ahead and focus on preventative measures, to make all of our local highways infrastructure more resilient.”

In all, 2,982 of the 73,208 bridges managed by local authorities were substandard at the end of 2023.

Last year, Suffolk ranked fifth worst local authority for substandard bridges.