Prague takes emergency measures after warnings over Vltava bridge

Libeň bridge, photo: CTK

Emergency steps have been taken to close one of Prague’s main bridges to traffic after a report highlighting its dangerous state. The moves came fast on the heels of warnings that many other bridges are in a poor state of repair and follows the collapse of one walkway over the Vltava at the end of last year.

Libeň bridge,  photo: CTK
Prague’s Libeň bridge was closed to all trams, car, trucks, and buses in the early hours of Friday. The move followed a report to city transport bosses highlighting the dangerous state of one of the bridge’s six sections. The bridge as a whole was classified as stage seven, the worst possible on a seven point evaluation.

The warning from experts actually said that no vehicles heavier than five tonnes should be allowed on the bridge. This would clearly cover trams and most trucks, but city authorities decided to play it safe and ban cars as well. It's estimated that around 14,000 cars and 1,000 trams use the bridge daily.

The closure is expected to last at least three weeks while detailed examinations and repairs are carried out on the section, but it could take longer. A broader report on the near 800 metre long bridge recommending what other work and repairs should take place should be submitted by the end of the month.

Petr Dolínek,  photo: CTK
Petr Dolínek is the member of Prague City Council’s executive committee responsible for transport. He explained the specific problems in a hastily arranged press conference:

ʺIt has been found in the last analysis that this part of the bridge has limited carrying capacity and the recommended maximum at this point is five tonnes. This adds up to one tram or three or four cars at the same place. That would be critical for the bridge as it is.ʺ

The problematic state of the Libeň bridge is not a bolt from the blue. Previous reports have warned of the corrosion that has taken place over the years since it completed and finally opened in 1928. But repairs have been frequently postponed in spite of the warnings.

Jan Čižinský is mayor of the Prague 7 district which is at one end of the Libeň bridge. And he had some withering words for how the situation had occurred:

ʺUnfortunately, I have to complain that this is precisely the result that Prague City Council is not able to maintain and repair these structures. The city frequently does not care for these buildings and then knocks them down and builds something new.ʺ

Libeň bridge,  photo: Petr Vilgus,  CC BY-SA 2.5
One specific problem with Libeň bridge is that it has an almost unique Cubist design with arguments waging over what special steps might needed to be taken for reconstruction.

The closure announcement came on the same day a report warned that around a fifth of Prague’s 700 bridges are in poor, very poor, and a handful are in an emergency condition. All this comes after a walkway for pedestrians suddenly plunged into the Vltava river back in December. There were a few injuries but luckily no one died.