‘Shambles’: Anger as Queensferry Crossing forced to shut for second time in seven weeks due to ice fall

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A NEW row has erupted after an ice shut Scotland’s showpiece road bridge for the second time in seven weeks.

It comes a matter of weeks after transport secretary Michael Matheson suggested lessons had been learnt.

Murdo Fraser, the Mid-Scotland and Fife MSP said it was a “shambles”.

The Transport Scotland appointed maintenance firm Bear Scotland announced the closure before rush hour at 4.00 am and it was confirmed it was fully re-opened to traffic at 10.10 am – over six hours later.

It said the closure was “due to a risk of falling ice” and motorists were diverted via the A985 Kincardine Bridge. Despite moves to re-open the Forth Road Bridge to motorists as an emergency, it was not available, and drivers were warned by Bear Scotland not to use it.

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.

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.

After that 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.

Users of the bridge, have bombarded Bear Scotland with complaints.

Mr Fraser said: “Another day, another Queensferry Crossing closures. Furious constituents in Fife already getting in touch to vent their anger. What a shambles.”

Transport Scotland was previously criticised for lack of action after reports of ice falling on vehicles in February, last year.

When it opened, the £1.35bn 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.

And at the start of last month it announced efforts to prevent the issue with ice sensors installed.

Infrastructure secretary Michael Matheson suggested the administration had learned a lesson from last winter when the crossing was closed earlier last year following reports of ice falling on vehicles.

QUEENSFERRY CROSSING CLOSED: DIVERSION VIA KINCARDINE#M90 Queensferry Crossing is closed due to a risk of falling ice. All traffic is being diverted via A985 Kincardine Bridge. Do not use Forth Road Bridge. We’re monitoring conditions closely and will reopen when safe to do so. pic.twitter.com/Bpu7oYTV1f
— BEAR SE Trunk Roads (@SETrunkRoads) January 21, 2021

He had been criticised for suggesting that an earlier incident was ‘a result of a very specific set of weather conditions’ and was unlikely to recur.

Calls were made in February for an urgent investigation into ice issues on the 1.7 mile publicly funded bridge which arose 11 months after giant icicles smashed the windscreens of three cars after they snapped off from cables on the crossing.

The revealed that the problem came despite the existing multi-million pound sensor system being unable to properly detect ice.

The Scottish Government were criticised for a failure to act quickly with transport secretary Michael Matheson said in October, 2019 that new sensors would be installed.

Prior to this winter season, new ice sensors were installed on the Queensferry Crossing as “part of a number of measures to improve the detection and management of ice accretion”.

As new measures were announced last month, Mr Matheson said: ‘Our teams always look to learn lessons from previous winters and have once again worked hard throughout the year to ensure we are well prepared for when the worst of the weather arrives.

Queensferry Crossing shut again due to ice. Hard to believe that typical Scottish winter weather can continue to cause such problems when we were repeatedly told the billions spent replacing the Forth Road Bridge meant no more weather-related closures. Is it a design fault?
— Duncan Hothersall🌹 (@dhothersall) January 21, 2021

“This ranges from the use of new technology, like ice accretion sensors and motorway access units, to trialling new treatments and adding more gritters to our fleet.”

In February, last year, the crossing was closed for the first time since it opened in 2017 after ice and snow fell from cables on to vehicles below.

Eight vehicles were damaged before the bridge was closed on safety grounds.

It led to lengthy tailbacks as drivers take a 35-mile diversion, crossing the Kincardine Bridge.

At the time of the February incident, Mr Matheson said there had been a similar issue the previous winter when snow and ice built up on some of the cables, but the bridge had not been closed.

Mr Matheson said: “I recognise the frustration of travellers today, and I very much regret that the bridge has been closed for the first time, but it is a bridge that’s given us much greater resilience than the old Forth Road Bridge.

It is a very serious concern that the Queensferry Crossing ice problems have still not been fixed. Key workers in Lothian and Fife especially desperately need that bridge to be open in the current circumstances.

— Liz Smith (@MspLiz) January 21, 2021

“There’s now been something like 30 occasions when we would have had only partial or no use of the Forth Road Bridge, whereas the Queensferry Crossing is continuing to function.”

The Scottish Government then confirmed that it was planning to install ice sensors on the structure “in the coming months”.

When it opened to traffic in August, 2017, it was heralded by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as “a symbol of a confident, forward-looking Scotland” and a “feat of modern engineering”.

Before it opened, bridge operators said the 3.5m high wind shields, would “almost entirely eliminate the need for closures”.

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