EXCLUSIVE: Forth Road Bridge could reopen to general traffic in emergency, transport minister confirms

(C) PATransport Secretary Michael Matheson with the Forth Road Bridge in the background during a visit to the control centre at the Queensferry Crossing, South Queensferry.

The Forth Road Bridge could be reopened to general traffic under emergency circumstances, the Scottish Government has revealed. Transport minister Michael Matheson has confirmed officials are investigating the feasibility of reopening the original bridge following last month’s closure of the Queensferry Crossing. It had to be shut for the first time since it opened in 2017, after ice and snow fell from cables onto vehicles below.

The closure sparked lengthy tailbacks as drivers were forced to take a 35-mile diversion over the Kincardine Bridge and led to many local businesses counting the cost of the disruption. Demands were made at the time to divert traffic onto the Forth Road Bridge to keep the M90 corridor moving. Officials said this was not possible.

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However, in a letter addressing concerns raised by Fife Council about last month’s situation, Mr Matheson said the Scottish Government is “actively seeking a viable option” to address the ice accretion on the Queensferry Crossing.

He added: “Following the recent closure, we will investigate the feasibility of reopening the Forth Road Bridge to general traffic under emergency circumstances, once the remaining works are complete and the contraflow is removed. “Following the occurrence of falling ice in March 2019, Transport Scotland engaged with expert advisors on additional measures that could be taken to enhance operational management of this issue, together with a review of worldwide experience of ice accumulation on bridges and technology developments in the preceding period. “This work concluded with a recommendation that arrangements be made for the acquisition of specialist weather forecasts, together with the installation of additional weather sensors and ice accretion sensors.

“Since then arrangements for the provision of specialist weather forecasts have been put in place and work has been progressing on the procurement of supply and installation of the weather and ice accretion sensors.

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“We also looked at preventive measures used elsewhere, for example collars, and their suitability for use on the Queensferry Crossing. Unfortunately these are not considered suitable on this bridge. “We have been working since March 2019 to end October 2019 to define the specification for these systems and from early November 2019 on the procurement recommendations.

“We expect to finalise this report at the end of the month and this will be considered appropriately.” Mr Matheson explained the decision was not taken to reopen the Forth Road Bridge last month as it is currently undergoing significant renovation work on the main expansion joints and has a contraflow in operation. Councillor David Ross, Labour co-leader of Fife Council, has welcomed the news.

He said: “Following my letter raising immediate concerns about the impact of the closure of the Queensferry Crossing in February, I am pleased that Michael Matheson MSP,  the Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, has responded positively, confirming that Transport Scotland are investigating measures to prevent the problem of ice forming on the Crossing and also looking at the feasibility of opening the Forth Road Bridge to general traffic should the Queensferry Crossing be closed for any reason in the future.

“Whilst I accept that road works on the Forth Road Bridge made it very difficult to reopen the Bridge on this occasion, this resulted in significant travel congestion in the Kincardine area and this is something that should be avoided in future if at all possible.

“I will continue to make these points to Scottish Government.”

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