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Forth Road Bridge set to re-open to cars after Queensferry Crossing ice crash row

GOVERNMENT officials are investigating using the Forth Road Bridge in an emergency as it takes action to try and overcome issues with falling ice from the Queensferry Crossing.

The £1.3 billion bridge was re-opened yesterday after being shut for two days after icicles hit eight cars.

The Scottish Government came under fire for failing to take sufficient action over the issue after three cars were struck by ice falling from crossing cables in March, last year.

Plans are in place to fit ice sensors on the bridge to give early detection of accumulations – with current procedures to guard against dangerous ice build-ups involving the use of binoculars.

But some MSPs have raised concerns with Transport Scotland that the Forth Road Bridge was unavailable to those motorists affected by the Queensferry Crossing closure with drivers facing a 34-mile detour via the Kincardine Bridge.

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Traffic could not be diverted over the Forth Road Bridge as it has now become a public transport corridor, meaning general traffic cannot cross.

Now it has been confirmed that an investigation has been launched into whether it is feasbile to re-open the Forth Road Bridge to general traffic in emergencies.

Michael Matheson, the transport secretary, has previously stated that the purpose of the Queensferry Crossing was to replace the Forth Road Bridge and provide a “more resilient and reliable crossing” for traffic.

Shirley-Anne Somerville, the SNP MSP for Dunfermline who met with Mr Matheson yesterday morning said they had discussed the role of the Forth Road Bridge as a contingency.

Ms Somerville, who is the cabinet secretary for social security and older people added: “This wasn’t possible this time as major work is underway but he has instructed officials to look at what can be put in place to ensure it is available in the future should this situation arise again.

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“This reopening is a relief to commuters and all those living on diversion routes. Thanks to all those who could take up additional public transport… and for the patience of those who had no alternative but to use the diversion route.

“It is important that when addressing the matter Transport Scotland understand that any contingency plans must recognise the disruption caused to those who live in Kincardine and other villages along the A985 and other affected routes.”

The Queen opened the bridge in August, 2017.

James Dornan, the Glasgow Cathcart SNP MSP was among those who defended the Scottish Government’s position, pointing out on social media that there were other bridges that had been shut during the weekend across the UK and adding: “Seriously I wish some of our opponents would grow up. This line of attack is utterly ridiculous.”

Before the bridge, described as the result of the biggest infrastructure project in Scotland in a generation, was opened,operators said the 3.5m high wind shields, would “almost entirely eliminate the need for closures”.

Now the Scottish Government has confirmed that it is planning to install ice sensors on the structure “in the coming months”.

According to contractor information a multi-million pound real-time system has over 2,300 sensors installed, which included the measuring of environmental impact. But it has been confirmed that the system is not expected to be fully operational until later this year.

While the bridge was under construction in 2016, then transport secretary Derek Mackay assured the Scottish parliament that “the decision to build in structural health monitoring as part of the new Queensferry crossing – a first for a UK bridge – is an example of the efforts that will safeguard that essential crossing for the future”.

Transport Scotland said it had considered the possibility of ice accumulation at an early stage of the bridge’s design but due to the “rarity” of falling ice incidents it was considered that the risk was best addressed through what it only describes as “operational management” which included visual inspections.

In November, Amey, which manages and maintains the Queensferry Crossing, said on social media that they were prepared for ice after the incident in March.

According to the Scottish Government’s winter services plan, the main cables, cable bands, main tower faces and tower top lifting beams should be monitored for snow and ice accumulations.

“This can be done by inspection teams using binoculars from the footways or if conditions allow, from the tower tops and cables… ”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said “The Forth Road Bridge (FRB) remains open as a public transport corridor into the city from Fife. The decision was taken to not reopen the FRB to general traffic given it is currently undergoing significant renovation work on the main expansion joints and has a contraflow in operation.

“Opening the FRB up to general traffic is likely to have result in increased congestion for all vehicles and leave the crossing vulnerable to lengthy delays as a result of any accidents or breakdowns. This would have a significant negative impact on journey times for public transport over the Forth.

“Following the recent closure of the Queensferry Crossing 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.”

Transport Scotland further stated that close to 80,000 vehicles have been using the Queensferry Crossing every day since 2017.

And the agency pointed out that it has remained open to high-sided vehicles and HGVs on over 30 occasions when the Forth Road Bridge would have been closed or restricted.

In November, the Scottish Conservatives challenged transport minister Michael Matheson on why the sensors had not been installed.

And when asked in November why the sensors hadn’t been installed, Mr Matheson responded: “Incidents like the one on the Queensferry Crossing in March 2019 are extremely rare. Meanwhile, our contractors have developed processes to ensure continued driver safety in the intervening period.”

Then, in December, he added: “Until the sensors to detect whether there is a risk of ice forming are installed, specialist weather forecasting and close observation of the structure will indicate whether physical measures will need to be taken to clear any ice.”

In a series of answers to Lothians MSP Miles Briggs on December 19, Mr Matheson confirmed: “Transport Scotland expects to have received all quotations related to the installation of ice sensor equipment this month. Evaluation of quotations will take place in early January and equipment will be installed as soon as possible thereafter.”

Meanwhile there are five days of weather warnings for Scotland as Storm Dennis hits the country – including heavy overnight snow in the south. The wild weather is set to continue throughout this week with the Met Office issuing yellow warnings for Scotland every day until Monday.

The overnight warnings for snow state that it may cause some travel disruption and that some rural communities could become cut off.

The Met Office further warned that power cuts may occur and other services, such as mobile phone coverage, may be affected.

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