Rotterdam’s new Botlek bridge reaches an unwelcome milestone

By Lorre Luther

On September 29th of this year, the Botlek bridge near Spijkenisse malfunctioned for the 100th time. Around six o’clock on Friday morning, the bridge went up and refused to come back down. The stand off lasted for just over two hours. The structure broke down for the 100th time just one day after going on the blink for the 99th. The day before the unfortunate milestone, the bridge’s locking system broke down; a glitch that lasted 7.5 hours and caused massive traffic jams.

Inaugurated in July 2015, the structure has been in use for two years. The 1200 meter long bridge over the Oude Maas is one of the largest drawbridges in the world. The bridge has two movable parts that separate and rise allowing large ships to continue along the river. The new Botlek bridge replaced an older version built in 1955. The goal was to decrease travel delays caused by the structural limitations of the older bridge. A15 highway traffic crosses the Oude Maas using the bridge. The old bridge had two lanes for vehicular traffic and the new one has four. The speed limit on the new bridge is higher than it was on the old one. Vehicles can now cross the bridge at a speedy 100 kilometers per hour instead of lumbering along at half of that pace. The bridge’s vertical clearance was increased from 8 to 14 meters, reducing the number of times the bridge needs to be opened for river traffic.

Residents living on the islands near the bridge were happy when they first learned of plans to replace the old bridge. The new structure promised to substantially decrease commuting times to and from work. Their hopes were soon dashed. In the first seven weeks after the bridge opened, it malfunctioned 25 times. Over the next six months the structure broke down 50 times.

Things have progressed to the point that most people avoid the bridge if they possibly can. According to Ferdinand Fransen spokesman for the municipality of Nissewaard, the bridge has a bad reputation in the community. “The Botlek bridge has an image problem. There have been so many malfunctions our residents don’t trust the thing.” Things have improved since the middle of 2016. In the last 12 months, there were only 27 issues with the bridge even though it opened 5977 times. Vehicle traffic was only seriously impacted on 12 occasions. Malfunctions made the bridge unusable for vehicle traffic .4 percent of the time. River traffic ended up waiting out a bridge malfunction 25 times. Ships on the Oude Maas faced transit difficulties .8 per cent of the time. Rijkswaterstaat states it will be difficult to further reduce the number of malfunctions.

According to Fransen, every bridge malfunction is one too many. “We are here on an Island. If there is a new Botlek bridge malfunction everyone has to find another way leave. That’s how you get traffic backups. With a Botlek bridge malfunction, the residents of our community can easily end arriving to work an hour late.”

Construction of the new Botlek bridge cost 250 million euro. The price tag for the entire project, including the required expansion of the A15 traffic lanes, came to 1.3 billion euro. In March 2016, a study determined that the bridge has a malfunction prone design. Halfway through 2016, Rijkswaterstaat had already spent 2.7 million euro on attempts to remedy bridge functions. Information is not yet available on the amount invested in the structure since then. Rijkswaterstaat released a statement via Twitter soon after the 100th malfunction. “A moveable bridge without malfunctions does not exist. And a malfunction-free Botlek bridge is unfortunately a utopia. We are working hard to prevent and solve the problem.”