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Engineering

At least one in 10 French bridges are reported to be unsafe

Pont du Diable, Unesco-listed, in Hérault in the south of France
Pont du Diable, Unesco-listed, in Hérault in the south of France RFI/Antoinette Delafin

Following the Genoa bridge disaster in August 2018 which claimed the lives of 43 people, French senators were tasked with studying the state of France’s bridges. Their findings, made public on Thursday, reveal that 10 percent are not safe.

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The exact number of bridges in France is not known, but estimates range from between 200,000 and 250,000.

The Senator’s report, made available to French news agency AFP, states that "at least 25,000 are in a bad structural state and pose security problems,” so that's up to 10 percent of the total number.

"It’s a surprising and altogether alarming figure," Senator Hervé Maurey, head of the information mission on bridge security, told Europe 1 radio on Thursday. “The worst ones are in towns where sometimes we don’t even know how many bridges there are let alone the state they're in."

Another survey carried out by two private consultancies for the Transport Ministry last year found that more than 800 road bridges in France, a third of those maintained by the state, were “at risk of collapsing” within a few years if they were not reinforced.

It pointed out that bridges in France were “only repaired, on average, 22 years after the appearance of the first deterioration”.

Senators are now calling for the equivalent of a "Marshall Plan" to repair the bridges. They recommend the state invest €120 million each year to maintain them (close to three times the average spent over the last three years).

The two consultancies estimated a billion euros had to be invested every year through to 2037 to avoid the "unacceptable risks" posed by neglected bridges.

More support for local councils

The task of maintaining the majority (around 170,000) of France's bridges falls to local councils, which are seen their budgets reduced year after year. The Senators have therefore also advocated creating a fund to help them: 130 million euros per year for 10 years.

The government maintains it is aware of the state of some bridges and is spending more on maintaining infrastructure via for example the recently voted law on Mobility.

Bridges considered at risk “are under increased surveillance, via sensors and more regular inspections," Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne told Le Parisien in the wake of the Genoa disaster in which two French people died.

“If we see there is a safety risk, we immediately impose a speed or weight limit," a member of her staff added.

“The government would do well to follow our recommendations,” Hervé Maurey told Le Parisien. “Having shown up this risk, should they somehow fail to react and a catastrophe then occur, the government will have exposed French people.”
 

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