The Bridging The Tamar Visitor and Learning Centre provides people young and old with the ability to learn about civil engineering and what goes into the day-to-day runnings of the bridges. This cannot be possible without the team of staff, contractors and volunteers that help to educate people on the heritage of both the 20th-century Tamar Bridge and Brunel’s iconic 19th-century Royal Albert Bridge.
Sharing the knowledge of thousands of highly skilled engineers, artists, mathematicians, scientists and innovators became achievable through a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund (NLHF) along with extra funds from the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee. In 2018, they were able to transform the old control office into a Visitor and Learning Centre and extend the building to create a larger control office with meeting rooms for collaboration projects. This hub is not only used for educational purposes but it is also created to keep people safe and the traffic flowing.
Bridges are not just a continuation of the road, bridges are monumental structures that show engineering brilliance and highlight the history of civil engineering in Britain. The team hope that people come away from the Centre with a new level of appreciation for the history of civil engineering and a new or nurtured passion for the craft.
The Centre offers many free interactive activities such as mini bridge building, costume dress-up station, interactives and video content. In addition to the exhibitions in the Centre, you can book a guided tour of the bridges or a talk about the history and what’s involved in the creation and maintenance of the bridges, as well as Anchorage Tours where you head underground and see for yourself where the cables meet the earth.
Educational workshops prove popular with schools and colleges as an interactive way to learn more about engineering. Entry into the Visitor and Learning Centre is free of charge for everyone but you must pre-book your talks, tours and workshops via www.bridgingthetamar.org.uk.
During our interview, we learnt a lot about the history of both bridges and how they are continuously maintained to the highest standards to ensure deterioration is kept to a absolute minimum so everyone can enjoy their beauty and use for years to come.
The Tamar Bridge was completed in 1961, 102 years after the Royal Albert Bridge was built in 1859. To ensure user safety and journey time reliability, the Tamar Bridge is managed by a dedicated 24hr/7 day a week Bridge Control Room supported by a highly specialised engineering team. Bridge Control constantly assess a range of environmental sensors, CCTV cameras and other data to ensure traffic plans match prevailing traffic flows and loading on the structure is efficiently distributed. This is important to both reduce delays and to enhance the life of the structure which is course, open to the SW climate and strong winds!
Following changes to the weight of European Heavy Goods Vehicles (HGVs), the Tamar Bridge underwent a landmark Strengthening and Widening project between 1997 and 2001. As the bridge was already in use carrying tens of thousands of people each day, closing the bridge for 4 years wasn’t an option. The solution was to add two additional lanes, or cantilevers, to either side of the bridge onto which traffic could be diverted so that the replacement of the original central section of bridge deck could proceed. Through innovative design and the use of lighter and stronger materials, the additional cantilevers became part of the permanent design giving five lanes where there were once three! Completed in 2001, the new revitalised bridge could now accept new HGV classes and had a Saltash local traffic lane as well as a dedicated footway and cycleway to promote sustainable transport. The project, the first of its kind to be strengthened and widened at the same time whilst still in use, won many awards and was officially re-opened in 2002 by the Princess Royal. Princess Anne. This was a proud moment for not only the project team, but the people of Devon and Cornwall too.
Today, an average of around 45000 vehicles cross the Tamar Bridge every day, although this varies considerably over the days and months and especially so during the Summer holidays or when the SW hosts a popular event.
Regular users of the Tamar Bridge will have noticed the central traffic lane switches direction throughout the day. The Bridge Control Room can set various traffic plans to suit prevailing traffic conditions. Whilst years of experience and traffic flow statistics allow us to predict general trends, constant changes in our leisure and business activities requires vigilance by the Bridge Control team to constantly monitor and adapt to ever changing circumstances. If for some reason, the traffic unexpectedly changes, traffic plans can be set within minutes to keep people moving. On a typical day, lane plans are changed between 6 and 10 times!
The safety of all bridge users is paramount. Lane plan changes can often be made to aid the passage of emergency vehicles or to assist broken down vehicles. Bridge Control carefully and considerately monitor footpaths and cycleways to ensure everyone is okay and if required, customers receive help and assistance. Bridge Control also protect wildlife and pets who can sometimes find themselves on the bridge.
People use the Tamar Bridge for numerous different reasons, and whether it’s part of their daily commute or the beginning of their holiday to Cornwall, everybody has a story to tell. This is something Mark Meredith, Bridge Manager, finds incredibly fascinating and very much close to his heart –
‘Engineers of course love to build bridges, but it’s the fact a bridge connects people and communities together which is the most amazing and deeply human aspect that brings joy.’
To allow for a smoother journey and journey time reliability, the Tamar Bridge offers regular users the Tamar TAG discount scheme which uses a small electronic device (the TAG) in a vehicle’s windscreen to automatically open lane barriers without the need to open your window. During certain times , TAG only lanes are available to further aid transit through the toll plaza. For one or less frequent users, cash or contactless card payment options are available to all vehicle classes.
For further tolling information, the Customer Service Centre at the Bridge Office is available on 01752 361577 (0900 – 1700hrs, Monday to Friday) or via www.tamarcrossings.org.uk.
During your visit to the Learning and Visitor Centre, you will be able to learn about the complex work that went into making these magnificent structures and see for yourself how the bridges work on a day-to-day basis. Embrace the history of I.K.Brunel’s Royal Albert Bridge and understand why the Tamar Bridge plays an integral part in today’s society. The Centre hopes to inspire young people and especially more women and girls into engineering and indeed all areas of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, arts and Maths).
By combining the ease of travel with the connection of two communities, the Tamar Bridge stands as a beacon in the landscape and a structure to be cherished.