Queensferry Crossing closures cannot be allowed to continue with the economy already suffering from Covid – Murdo Fraser MSP

Here we go again. That was my reaction on Friday morning, when emails started to flood into my inbox from angry constituents in Fife, alerting me to the fact that the Queensferry Crossing had been closed due to the risk of falling ice.

The potential for the Forth Road Bridge to be used as an alternative route when the Queensferry Crossing is closed should be explored, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Michael Gillen)
The potential for the Forth Road Bridge to be used as an alternative route when the Queensferry Crossing is closed should be explored, says Murdo Fraser (Picture: Michael Gillen)

Although the bridge reopened later in the morning, massive transport disruption was caused, with huge congestion and tailbacks for vehicles trying to access the alternative route via the Kincardine Bridge.

This is not, of course, the first time that we have seen the Queensferry Crossing close due to this problem. What is particularly concerning is that we are only just at the very start of winter and we have already seen one closure, and constituents writing to me are asking how many more times this is likely to happen over coming weeks and months.

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The Queensferry Crossing and Forth Road Bridge to close overnight on Saturday

The cost of these closures to the East of Scotland economy, not to mention the disruption and distress caused to individuals, is immense. And we should not forget that this was, according to the engineers, “the bridge that would never have to close”.

I attended various meetings last year with Transport Scotland and their contractors to discuss the problem with ice forming on the bridge cables. It seems extraordinary now that when the bridge was designed this issue with ice was a known problem, but it was deemed that climatic conditions on the Forth were such that the probability of it occurring here was so low that it could be disregarded. Well, they ken noo.

So what can be done? There are various potential solutions that could be retrofitted to the bridge, including looking at heating the cables to prevent ice build-up, or the installation of collars to slide down the cables to clear ice accumulations, as has been developed for the Port Mann Bridge in Vancouver, which experienced similar problems.

An alternative approach is to fit steel mesh to the outside of the bridge cables which would help them retain the ice for longer. The ice would then melt and fall as harmless drops of water, rather than as large slabs or shards which present a risk to vehicles.

Queensferry Crossing was closed during rush hour because of falling ice from the cables on December 4 (Picture: SWNS)

None of these solutions will be simple or cheap to implement. The Queensferry Crossing has more than 70 km of cables which would have to be treated, and the expense would be considerable. It seems extraordinary that here we have a brand-new bridge, hailed at the time of its construction as a “world-leading design”, and yet it is simply not fit for purpose and requires extensive remedial work.

Whatever solution is found, the Scottish government has to get on and implement it as quickly as possible. In the meantime, they have to consider what use can be made of the existing Forth Road Bridge as a potential bypass route in the event of future Queensferry Crossing closures.

We simply cannot see a repeat, on a regular basis, of the scenes we saw on Friday morning, and at points last winter. The Scottish economy is already suffering enough due to the impact of Covid. To exacerbate these difficulties because of government incompetence would be simply unforgivable.

Murdo Fraser is a Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife

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