The Humber Bridge is a single-span suspension bridge 7,283 feet long (some 1⅓ miles) crossing the Humber from Hessle near Kingston upon Hull in the East Riding of Yorkshire to Barton-upon-Humber in Lincolnshire. It opened to traffic on 24 June 1981 and was for 17 years the longest of its type in the world. It inspired ambition in bridge-building and consequently it is now the seventh-longest single-span bridge in the world.
The bridge itself is a major landmark, tall against the horizon and visible for many miles around in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire.
In 2006, the bridge was recorded as carrying an average of 120,000 vehicles a week. The toll was £3.00 each way for cars (higher for commercial vehicles), which made it the most expensive toll crossing in the United Kingdom. As of 1 April 2012, the toll was reduced to £1.50 each way after the government deferred £150 million from the bridge's current debt.
Before the bridge opening, the Humber was crossed on the ferry that ran between Hull and New Holland, Lincolnshire or by way of the M62, M18 and M180 motorways, crossing the River Ouse near Goole in the process. There was also a short-lived hovercraft service; Minerva and Mercury linked Hull Pier and Grimsby Docks from February to October 1969, but suffered frequent mechanical failures.
Plans for a bridge were originally drawn up in the 1930s, and were revised in 1955, but work did not begin until 27 July 1972. The Humber Bridge Act, promoted by Kingston Upon Hull Corporation, was passed in 1959. This established the Humber Bridge Board to manage and raise funds to build the bridge and buy the land required for the approach roads. However, raising the necessary funding proved impossible until the 1966 Hull North by-election; to save his government, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson prevailed upon his Minister of Transport Barbara Castle to sanction the building of the bridge so as to win the by-election voters over.
Dismay at the long wait for a crossing led to the writing by Christopher Rowe of a protest song entitled "The Humber Bridge".
The bridge opened to traffic on 24 June 1981. It was opened officially by Elizabeth II on 17 July 1981. The consulting engineers for the project were Freeman Fox & Partners. The main contractor for the superstructure was British Bridge Builders (the same grouping as for the Forth and Severn Road Bridges comprising Sir William Arrol & Co then a unit of N.E.I Cranes Ltd, the Cleveland Bridge & Engineering and Redpath Dorman Long Ltd). The contractor for the sub-structure was John Howard & Co Ltd.
With a centre span of 4,626 feet and a total length of 7,283 feet, the Humber Bridge was the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world for 17 years, until Japan's Akashi Kaikyō Bridge opened on 5 April 1998. The road-distance between Hull and Grimsby was reduced by nearly 50 miles as a consequence of the bridge.
The bridge's surface takes the form of a dual carriageway with a lower-level foot and cyclepath on both sides. There is a permanent 50 mph speed limit on the full length of the bridge.
Each tower consists of a pair of hollow vertical concrete columns, each 510 feet tall and tapering from 20 feet square at the base to 14'10" x 15'7" at the top. The bridge is designed to tolerate constant motion and bends more than 10 feet in winds of 80 mph. The towers, although both vertical, are 1⅓ inches farther apart at the top than the bottom due to the curvature of the earth.
The total length of the suspension cable is 44,000 miles.
The north tower is on the bank, and has foundations down to 26 feet. The south tower is in the water, and descends to 118 feet as a consequence of the shifting sandbanks that make up the estuary.
The bridge held the record for the world's longest single-span suspension bridge for 16 years from its opening in July 1981, until the opening of the Great Belt Bridge in June 1997, and was relegated to third place with the opening of the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge in April 1998. It is now the seventh longest single-span suspension bridge. The central span, at 4,640 ft, is the longest in the United Kingdom. It remains the longest single-span suspension bridge in the world that one can cross on foot or by bicycle.
The bridge is crossed twice during the annual Humber Bridge half marathon.
During construction of the bridge, the road deck sections were floated up on barges then hoisted into place by cables. During one of these lifting operations some of the cables on one of the road deck sections failed, leaving the section hanging at an angle. The section was, however, subsequently rescued and used.
More than 200 incidents of people jumping or falling from the bridge have taken place since it was opened in 1981; only five have survived. Between 1990 and February 2001 the Humber Rescue Team launched its boat 64 times to deal with people falling or jumping off the bridge. As a result, plans were announced on 26 December 2009 to construct a suicide barrier along the walkways of the bridge; design constraints were cited as the reason for non-implementation before this time.
The bridge has a toll charge of £1.50 for cars. Until 1 April 2012 the Humber Bridge was the only major toll bridge in the United Kingdom to charge tolls to motorcycles (£1.20); others such as the Severn crossings and the Dartford Crossing are free. In 2004, a large number of motorcyclists held a slow-pay protest, taking off gloves and helmets and paying the toll in large denomination bank notes. Police reported a tailback of 4 miles as a consequence of the protest.
In 1996, Parliament passed the Humber Bridge (Debts) Act 1996 to reorganise the Humber Bridge Board's debts to ensure the bridge could be safely maintained. Although a significant proportion of the debt was suspended in that refinancing arrangement there was no "write off" of debt and the suspended portion is being gradually re-activated as the Bridge Board pays off the remainder of the active debt.
The size of the bridge tolls has led to other campaigns, whether for exemption of some categories, such as ambulances, or to reduce or indeed abolish tolls: a protest at the bridge on 1 September 2007 was supported by the local Cancer Patients Involvement Group, the Road Haulage Association, Yorkshire and Humberside MEP Diana Wallis and local business and council representatives. The government responded to the petition on 14 January 2008, stating that "Concessions or exemptions from tolls on the Humber Bridge are a matter for the Humber Bridge Board."
The Humber Bridge Board requires approval from the Department of Transport to raise tolls, which has been given, as in 2011. However, later that year an agreement with the Treasury reduced the debt on the bridge by £150 million to allow the toll for cars to be halved to £1.50., which was implemented in April 2012.
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