SAFETY works on the Forth Road Bridge have been plunged into chaos with two vital projects having suffered delays so far of nearly three years which has added millions to costs, the Herald on Sunday can reveal.

Hold-ups on works on the historic bridge have delayed plans to allow it to be used for traffic, especially in an emergency.

Since Scotland's flagship road bridge Queensferry Crossing opened in the summer of 2017, general traffic such as cars and HGVs have been banned on the Forth Road Bridge which is now being used solely as a public transport corridor.

Transport campaigners have called for the Forth Road Bridge to be open at least partially to general traffic, to ease Queensferry Crossing congestion, or even to take the strain in an emergency as a contingency measure when it is closed.

A typical day for the Queensferry Crossing in 2018 saw 76,600 vehicles go across - 3% more than used the Forth Road Bridge in 2014.

The Scottish Government had looked at making use of what is one of the world's most significant long span suspension bridges at least in emergencies. This came to the fore in February after concerns were raised over ice falling onto cars on the £1.3bn Queensferry Crossing during the winter.  

READ MORE: Disbelief as Queensferry Crossing forced to shut yet again despite new ice sensors

Transport Scotland’s maintenance company Bear Scotland confirmed that there had always been an intention to use the Forth Road Bridge as an emergency diversion - but ongoing works on the bridge meant it was not available.

Transport officials have decided to revisit re-opening the Forth Road Bridge to cars as a contingency as it again tried to deal with issues of falling ice on Scotland's newest road bridge connecting Edinburgh and Fife last week.

The Crossing, the result of the biggest infrastructure project in Scotland in a generation, was shut for four hours on December 4 after patrol staff noticed ice falling.

Both the Queensferry Crossing and Forth Road Bridge were to be closed to traffic in both directions from 10pm on yesterday (Saturday) before re-opening at 8am today (Sunday) to allow Bear Scotland to test the implementation of the emergency diversion.

All traffic was to be diverted on a route via Kincardine Bridge adding an estimated 36 miles and 40 minutes to journeys.

Bear Scotland said the move came because work on the southbound carriageway expansion joints of the Forth Road bridge was finally expected to be completed within the next few weeks.

Works to replace the 56-year-old bridge expansion joints - which were described as a "safety and maintenance liability" were put off for 11 years, until finally being sanctioned in 2018.

The expansion joints project was one of a series of bridge repair plans that were put off as the Scotland's flagship road bridge, the Forth Replacement Crossing now known as the Queensferry Crossing was being planned.

HeraldScotland: The Queensferry Crossing

The Queensferry Crossing

According to official documents seen by the Herald on Scotland, the works were originally scheduled to take eight months and start in the spring of 2018.

The Herald on Sunday has been now been told that the works -  which had a tender price of £6m, £2.5m more than the first estimate -  are now not expected to be completed till October 2021, a delay of nearly three years.  

Transport Scotland could not estimate how much the delays in completion would add to the final cost.

But the Herald on Sunday can reveal that delays in another Forth Road Bridge safety repair on its problem truss end links which is being blamed for the delay in the joints work, saw costs rise by £1.7m from the original tender price of £9.1m to £10.8m.

The main expansion joints are essential for allowing the deck of the Forth Road Bridge to expand and contract as required by weather or weight of traffic.

Work on replacing the problem truss end links were originally recommended by consultants WA Fairhurst ten years ago.

That work too was also not immediately approved because of concerns over lengthy closures before the Queensferry Crossing was open.

Work on the project became a reality after the discovery, in December 2015, of a 20mm-wide crack in one of eight trusses under the southbound carriageway of the Forth Road Bridge close to the its north tower.

It caused the bridge to be closed completely for more than three weeks while urgent repairs were carried out.

Bridge owner Transport Scotland then moved to replace the other seven key links in a £9.1m scheme.  

Official tender documents show ministers had planned to have the truss end links repaired in 2017.   

The Herald on Sunday has been told those works were only concluded in March, 2019, over two years behind schedule.

Calls for the Forth Road Bridge to open at peak times were made in October, last year after councillors summoned transport officers to face them and find a solution to congestion on the Queensferry Crossing. 

HeraldScotland:

After the latest ice fall put the Queensferry Crossing out of action, Lib Dem MSP for Edinburgh Western, Alex Cole-Hamilton said the Forth Road Bridge should at least be available to allow key workers to cross whenever  in what he described as a "special fix".

"It is important not to have just two road bridges over the Forth that would lead to far more traffic coming into the city and nobody wants that," he said.

When it opened, the Queensferry Crossing was expected to remain open in all weather conditions.

It was fitted with 3.5m (11ft) high barriers designed to ensure the bridge would not be closed by high winds. But they did not account for ice.

After three cars were struck by ice from crossing cables in March, 2018, minsters came under for failing to take sufficent action. The crossing has been now had to be shut twice due to falling ice.

Last month transport secretary Michael Matheson suggested lessons had been learnt from previous ice fall issues, while new ice sensors had been installed.

But it emerged that the sensors had not given an early enough alert over the fall last week to allow the bridge to be shut down to motorists before the fall.

As preparations were being made to use the Forth Road Bridge for emergencies, Bear Scotland source indicated that this was because work to replace the expansion joints on the southbound carriageway of the Forth Road Bridge would be complete later this month "weather permitting". 

However, work, on the northbound carriageway would not star till April 4, 2021 and was expected to be complete by the end of October 2021.

The Bear Scotland source said that work on the Forth Road Bridge would, nevertheless, be suspended over the winter so that the bridge was available for use as an emergency diversion route if required.

“The replacement of the expansion joints took longer than anticipated for several reasons," he said.  "Works to replace the truss end links had a knock-on impact, delaying full access to the site, and then Covid-19 resulted in a three-month suspension of work on site and subsequent modification of processes. We also discovered hidden issues once we took the joints apart, which required additional works to resolve.

READ MORE: Queensferry Crossing and Forth Road bridge to close overnight

"Work to redesign and replace the truss end links on the Forth Road Bridge began following the failure of these components in December 2015, and concluded in March 2019. These works were carried out under the supervision of the former bridge operating company Amey, before Bear Scotland took over in August 2020."

Works to replace the the Forth Road Bridge expansion joints were put off after costs soared and the Scottish Government announced that the new Forth crossing would be in place.

As the new crossing would reduce use of the original bridge, one of Scotland’s most important and heavily used road routes, leading to a reduction in the weight of traffic on it, Transport Scotland felt it would therefore extend its operational life.

The joints are the oldest and largest of their kind in Europe, and had been scheduled for replacement in 2010.

According to a 2007 Forth Estuary Transport Authority report members were advised by consulting engineers Atkins that existing joints and bearings were considered to have "reached the end of their service life".

 

The document said Atkins "concluded that all three types of bridge expansion joints have generally performed well but have reached the end of their service life and are now becoming a safety and maintenance liability."

They had concluded that the replacement of all the expansion joints "should be considered a priority as the rate of wear will increase rapidly".

The cost of the contract works to replace the joints was first estimated as £3.5 million and was included in a capital plan.

It was estimated it would require eight weeks of carriageway closures and FETA acknowledged that necessary bridge closures will cause "widespread and significant disruption to the whole of the road network in the east of Scotland".

In October, 2008, FETA accepted a tender from Balfour Beatty to carry out the work but it meant it would exceed a three-year government capital spending grant by around £5 million.

But as discussions were underway, the Scottish Government committed to the construction of the Queensferry Crossing, sparking a review of this and other bridge projects.

It was then decided that no contract could then be awarded for the expansion joints works until the issue of funding was resolved with the Scottish Government.

After the replacement of the problem truss end links was recommended ten years ago, it was decided that that work also should not be approved because of the issue because of concerns over lengthy closures before the Queensferry Crossing was open.

It is understood an analysis by consultant Aecom around six years ago indicated that the end of the deck would drop by 150mm under dead weight alone if a pair of the links should fail. That would lead to massive buckling of the adjacent expansion joint. A major repair operation would then be needed, involving long term closure of the bridge.
Transport Scotland were unable to estimate what the extra costs of the expansion joints would be.

"Costs can fluctuate during the course of a project like this according to a range of factors," said a spokesman.

"We will be in a position to confirm final costs when the work is complete."