Contractors officially hand over £1.35bn bridge to Scottish Government

29 Aug 17

Contractors have handed over Scotland’s biggest public infrastructure project in a generation to the country’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The elegant 1.7 mile bridge over the River Forth, officially the Queensferry Crossing, is the longest of its type in the world, and its three suspension towers the highest in the UK.

Standing at more than 200 metres, they are some 50 metres higher than those on the existing Forth Road Bridge or the Humber Bridge.

Its official handing over to the Scottish Government was marked by a spectacular lights show last night.

Though winter winds delayed completion for some months beyond the scheduled date, the £1.35bn project came in on budget, and at a lesser cost both than the original £1.7bn estimate and the £3.2-4.2bn cost that was anticipated when the project was first outlined a decade ago.

The savings were partly achieved by introducing smart traffic flow systems on 12.5 miles of upgraded, and 2.5 miles of new, approach roads; and partly from a decision to retain the existing road bridge for light vehicles and public transport.

More controversially, a £790 million steel contract was awarded to China on cost grounds rather than to the remnant of Scotland’s own steel industry.

It means that the Forth Estuary, a vital link in Scotland’s transport network, is now the only stretch of water in the world to be spanned by functional bridges from three different centuries: the rail bridge (1890), the road bridge (1964) and the Queensferry Crossing (2017).

Speaking at the handover ceremony on Monday evening, Sturgeon said: “"Design, engineering and construction - in its own right it is absolutely amazing.

"But when you put it into the context of these two other amazing bridges, what you have done here is create something truly special,” she added. "This is going to be a tourist attraction. It adds beautifully to the Scottish skyline."

The decision to build a new bridge was taken in 2017, following the discovery of serious structural problems in the 1964 bridge. 

That bridge had been expected to last 120 years, but its design was predicated on a maximum load of 11 million vehicles a year. 

Increased car ownership more than doubled that, and volumes of heavy road freight have risen massively in the past half century.

Despite this troubled history, engineers are confident that the new bridge will long outlive its design lifespan, again put at 120 years. 

Key lessons from the previous bridge have been incorporated in the design, notably much easier maintenance procedures and better measures to cope with the strong winds that buffet the Firth.

Traffic will begin using the bridge tomorrow morning, and it will be formally opened next Monday by the Queen. 

For the first time since his retirement took effect, the Duke of Edinburgh has agreed to accompany the monarch for the occasion.

  • Keith Aitken
    Keith Aitken

    covers Scottish affairs for Public Finance from Edinburgh. He was formerly economics editor and chief leader writer on The Scotsman and now has a busy freelance career as a writer, broadcaster and event chair.

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