Vital bridge shaping up on Drake's Trail

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Posted on: 23 February 2012

The spectacular vistas from a new 24-metre high cycle and pedestrian bridge being built near Tavistock will be previewed by Devon County Councillors next week (Tuesday 28 February).

Devon County Council’s £2.1million Gem Bridge is one of the final links on Drake’s Trail which will eventually connect Dartmoor National Park with Plymouth.

The structure has taken shape over the past 11 months and there is an opportunity to see the progress of construction and to get a glimpse of the views from the bridge at 2:30pm on Tuesday 28 February.

The new bridge is scheduled for completion in the Spring and is the equivalent height of five double-decker buses stacked on top of each other. It looks across to Dartmoor to the east and Sticklepath Woods to the west, which cyclists and walkers will be able to enjoy when Drake’s Trail opens later this Summer.

Gem Bridge also forms part of Cycle West‘s “Vélodyssée” route, which is a 265 mile (440km) cross-Channel cycle link stretching from Ilfracombe to Redon in Southern Brittany, via Okehampton, Tavistock and Plymouth. As part of this partnership, Devon County Council secured a £600,000 European grant, to establish better cycling tourism links between the south west of England and France, which has been used to help fund the bridge.

The final three steel sections of the structure were lifted into place at the end of last year, completing the five-span, 200-metre long arching truss.
Having the last span in place has enabled the contractor to install the pre-cast concrete decking units and work is currently progressing well on the installation of the steel bridge parapets and railings.

Councillor Stuart Hughes, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Highways and Transportation, said: “This project is a remarkable feat of engineering, particularly when you consider the challenging nature of the site which is narrow and steep, and close to the river. It has been well worth it though and I’m looking forward to the opening of this vital section of Drake’s Trail, which also forms part of the Devon Coast to Coast route. Everyone involved with this project is excited about enabling people to enjoy these views from the bridge in the very near future.”

Councillor Philip Sanders, Local County Councillor for Yelverton Rural, said:
“Having watched the construction of this bridge from afar I am really excited about the prospect of being able to stand on it and appreciate the views. It will certainly prove to be a very big attraction on this section of the cycleway and I anticipate walkers and cyclists will make a point of visiting it simply for the pleasure of standing on it and admiring both the bridge itself and the stunning views.”

Pupils from Whitchurch Primary, Horrabridge Primary, Tavistock Primary and Tavistock College have been asked for their suggestions to create a public space near the bridge. They recently visited the site to see how they could use a number of large granite blocks, which previously formed part of Brunel’s original viaduct which was constructed in 1859 and demolished in the 1960s. These granite blocks once sat on top of the original piers, 40m above the valley floor and they were unearthed during construction of Gem Bridge.

To lift the steel sections of the new bridge into place, the County Council’s main contractor on the project, Dawnus, had to install twenty tonnes of scaffolding over an area the size of a tennis court. The ground also had to be strengthened to support a 250 tonne crane when TEMA Engineering Ltd installed the spans.

Dawnus has also worked within strict environmental guidelines on the scheme, which has led to the project being put forward for consideration in the National Considerate Constructors Award Scheme.

See the final section of the bridge being lifted into place.

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Posted in: Environment