The £3.5 million scheme, funded through the Department for Transport’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund, will see the former rail bridge restored and converted into a new walking and cycling route over the River Plym.
Built in 1887, Laira Rail Bridge stopped carrying passenger trains in the 1960s and freight trains in the 1980s. It is believed the last train crossed the bridge in 1987 and since then it has fallen into disrepair.
The new scheme will bring the familiar local landmark back into use as an important travel route by creating a safer, traffic-free link for walkers and cyclists. It will connect existing walking and cycling facilities near The Ride (east of the river) with the Laira Cycleway (west of the river) and form part of the National Cycle Network Routes 2 and 27.
Three of the six spans have now been comprehensively grit blasted, repaired and painted. New decking and handrails have also been installed in preparation for the bridge’s conversion into a cycle and pedestrian path.
Councillor Mark Coker, Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “This exciting scheme is now well on its way to being completed. Although some parts of the original Victorian ironwork needed to be repaired, others were still in excellent condition and the manufacturer’s name, South Stockton Iron Co., could clearly be seen stamped on the trusses.
“It will be great to see the rail bridge back in use in late spring – and we’re now looking to build a new bridge over The Ride as part of the project, which will extend the pedestrian and cycle path even further towards Saltram Meadow and Plymstock. We were planning to build this at a later stage but we’ve been able to find a way of delivering it within the current project budget, which means savings in the longer term.
“Work will start on the extension once planning permission is confirmed, which we hope will be towards the end of February, with the route being fully open by July. A temporary ramp will be in use until this second phase is complete. Subject to funding, later phases of the scheme will see the link eventually extend down to Broxton Drive.”