If someone mentions the Côte d’Azur or Provence and ‘June’ in the same sentence, you’ll probably start thinking of dazzling sun, blue skies and the beach. And so it is for most of the time. But 15th June 2010 was catastrophically different in our part of the Var. Torrential rain, more than 400 mm (16 in), fell in less than 24 hours, causing enormous volumes of water to surge down the network of local rivers which flow into the River Argens which reaches the sea near Frejus. The flooding was so sudden and dramatic that many people were trapped and at least 25 people lost their lives (mostly caught in their cars) and over one thousand people had to be evacuated from their homes. The damage to property, roads, bridges et cetera was enormous.
Why are we blogging about this? Well, although there was no loss of life in our village of Taradeau one of the results of the flood was that half the bridge across the Florièye river was swept away. As the bridge links the two halves of the village and carries a fairly important road this was a serious matter. Almost immediately a temporary bridge was put in place. However it was obvious that the bridge needed to be rebuilt.
Unfortunately, this being France, the process took a long time. Engineers had to be consulted, plans drawn up, funding sought and only then could the file of paperwork on the proposal for a new bridge start to move. So, we presume, it progressed through multiple levels of administration from the village of Taradeau, up to the Sous-Prefecture at Draguignan, then up to the Prefect for the Department of Var at Toulon and then, for all we know, up to Paris itself. (There may well have been European Union money involved in which case the file probably travelled to Brussels or Strasbourg, or both.) With funding approved, the whole thing went out to the process of tender before the contract was ultimately awarded.
The result of this was that when we first visited Taradeau in the summer of 2014 – four years after the flood – the temporary bridge was still in place, and allowing only a single line of traffic controlled by with traffic lights it was a source of considerable delay. However, in autumn 2014 work finally started on the new bridge. In order to avoid undue expectation a nice sign was put up saying that the whole process was going to take 16 months.
Continuing on the principle that no new bridge should be built in haste, work continued cautiously . The first step was to create a single track ford to enable traffic to continue crossing the river. Because the ford could be flooded plans were put in place to warn people by text message if heavy rain rendered it unusable. (The dry weather since has meant that this was never used.) The whole system was controlled by traffic lights and we soon learnt that this part of France when the green light goes to red it doesn’t mean that the traffic should stop, only that you should drive even more quickly and that in another thirty seconds or so people really ought to seriously consider stopping.
So over the last year and a bit we have been watching the slow but steady progress of the bridge. In all fairness they have done a very solid job. The new bridge is bigger, wider and – critically – capable of handling even the most apocalyptic of water flows.
The old bridge was removed in January last year, and all the preparatory work of foundations started. By July, a wooden form was created in which to pour concrete for the bridge span, and by August there was a new arch in place. Work was still going on around the river bed, strengthening the bridge piers and the embankments.
Last week the bridge was finally opened to traffic and everybody is very pleased. The two halves of the village are now properly reunited. It is in all honesty, a very fine bridge and sympathetically matches the remaining arch of the old bridge which it links to. We feel there ought to be some sort of formal opening but perhaps that’s still to come after all the tidying up has been completed.
We have heard comments from engineers that in northern Europe the building of such a bridge would have taken half the time. Perhaps. But we are increasingly coming to the view that here the function of public works such as bridge and road building is not simply to create something but also to provide people with employment. On that basis, taking your time has merits.