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Steel Issue Closes Forth Bridge

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

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Scotland’s Forth Bridge might never see traffic again after inspectors there found a fault in the bridge’s steel structure.

According to several media reports, the bridge closed at midnight Thursday (Dec. 3) for what Scottish officials are calling a precautionary measure. It remained unclear if the bridge—built in 1964 and which serves as a major local artery for traffic—will ever open again.

A new bridge that will replace the cable-stayed bridge is expected to be completed in 2016, earlier reports indicate. However, the Forth Bridge was not expected to close prior to opening the new Queensferry Crossing Bridge.

The Blame Game

Now, an engineer says, they don’t know if vehicle traffic, pedestrians or cyclists can cross the Firth of Forth until the new bridge is complete.

“We are in a disaster situation,” John Carson told the Daily Record on Tuesday (Dec. 7). “My view is that the bridge might never open to heavy goods vehicles again.”

Carson, who the newspaper described as a construction engineer with more than 40 years of experience—said the Scottish government should not have abandoned a plan to strengthen steelwork in the bridge’s northeast tower five years ago. A 2 centimeter (about ¾ inch) crack was found on that tower last week.

But the government responded saying Carson was exaggerating the situation.

“The Scottish Government have fully funded all [Forth Bridge Estuary Transport Authority] programs since taking over the funding of the annual grant in 2008,” a Transport Scotland official told the Daily Record.

“Inspections and routine maintenance regimes have continued under [private contractors Amey] seamlessly using the same procedures developed and used by FETA. It’s regrettable that when Amey have made every effort to explain the background to a complex situation, others are seeking to create mischief and apportion blame.”

Under New Management

Amey took over management and maintenance of the 51-year-old bridge in June, the newspaper reported. At the time, the FETA was spending £20 million-plus (US$30 million-plus) a year on maintenance. About £12 million (US$18 million) came from tolls until those were scrapped.

But Carson said he believed Transport Scotland was putting restrictions on FETA for how much it could spend on the bridge, the newspaper said.

“I suspect it was pulled because Transport Scotland had their feet under the table of funding FETA for two years and they were hell-bent on cutting back the money they were spending,” he told the newspaper.

Andrew Carrie, another civil engineer, backed up Carson’s claim that the bridge should have been closed to traffic over the summer instead of being handed off to a private-management firm.

“This problem was identified by technical experts and it was well-known, well-documented and a decision was made, ‘Let’s not do anything about it’ to save money,” Carrie told the Daily Record.

Meanwhile, multiple media reports discuss who is to blame, what it will cost businesses and the transport industry and how travelers will get around the closed bridge during the holiday season.

Transport Issues

The Transport Minister warned there is “no doubt” that people will experience disruption, according to Herald Scotland, which also reported that a website had been established to help those navigate the transportation problem.

“Since we took the necessary decision to close the Forth Road Bridge on safety grounds, the patience and co-operation displayed by the travelling public and affected businesses is appreciated, but there is no doubt people will continue to experience disruption over this period,” Transport Minister Derek MacKay said in a statement.

The Forth Bridge has been closed indefinitely to traffic after engineers discovered a defect in its structural steel.

“A significant amount of work has been put in to deliver additional resources for commuters and businesses that need to travel and we have been able to add additional resources for public transport routes between Fife and Edinburgh,” he continued. “This includes 6,500 more seats a day on ScotRail trains and an additional 33 buses supplied through Stagecoach and bringing 11,000 more seats on key services.”

The Herald reported that about 70,000 vehicles use the bridge daily. The day of the closure, the newspaper reported 11-hour backups.

Help Coming

As previously reported, the Queensferry Crossing is part of the 13.7-mile Forth Replacement Crossing project, which includes upgrades to highways north and south of the bridge.

The 1.7-mile (2.7km) Queensferry Crossing will be the world's longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge and, by far, the largest to feature cables that cross mid-span.

The design “provides extra strength and stiffness, allowing the towers and the deck to be more slender and elegant,” according to Transport Scotland.

The Forth Road Bridge project followed the discovery of corrosion on the bridge’s main cable in 2004.

In 2006-07, Transport Scotland completed a Forth Replacement Crossing Study, which examined a wide range of bridge and tunnel options for the crossing. The new cable-stayed bridge got the green light in December 2007.

In one of the biggest procurement exercises in Scotland’s history, the project was awarded in April 2011 to a consortium called the Forth Crossing Bridge Constructors.

The consortium companies are Hochtief, from Germany; American Bridge, from Pittsburgh, in the United States; Dragados, from Spain; and Morrison Construction, in Scotland.


Tagged categories: Bridges; Environmental Controls; Europe; Roads/Highways; Steel; Structural steel

Comment from Antonio Leal, (12/9/2015, 6:49 AM)

the first defect we see is the poor quality of the painting made, except mistake on my part.

Comment from John Fauth, (12/9/2015, 11:07 AM)

If a similar decision had been made by private industry, those with a particular ideology would assail capitalism and not rest until those responsible were both shamed and unemployed. But this decision was made by government bureaucrats, and as such it's most likely they will not be held accountable since government and its officials have unquestionably pure motives.

Comment from M. Halliwell, (12/9/2015, 11:37 AM)

It would be interesting to know where Carson got his information from...if he's been working on the bridge for years and knows it well or if he has a little info and a makes a huge difference in how much credibility to give. A 20 mm crack (in concrete, and especially in structural steel) is nothing to sneeze at, but the seriousness depends on where, when and why/how the crack came to be.

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