Scotland’s Forth Road Bridge (FRB) is to shut until the New Year for repairs following the discovery of defective steelwork. The closure caused 11 mile queues at the Kincardine Bridge, the nearest alternative crossing, on Friday 4 December and six mile tailbacks at the Clackmannanshire Bridge. The decision to close it was taken following inspections carried out by specialist engineers and following advice and assessment of the fault by independent experts. Work is already underway to repair the 51 year old bridge which carries 70,000 vehicles a day.
A 50 mile detour has been implemented and bus priority routes have been put into place for both directions along the A985. Westbound traffic should take the A985 exit at Cairneyhill Roundabout and follow the A985 for seven miles to Longannet Roundabout. Take the second exit at Longannet Roundabout to continue on A985 to cross the Kincardine Bridge. For eastbound traffic, on the approach to Higgins Neuk roundabout, take the offside lane to cross the Kincardine Bridge. At Longannet Roundabout, take the second exit and follow the A985 for seven miles to Cairneyhill Roundabout. As a result of severe car passenger delays on Monday 7 December, the priority routes will be open to non bus/HGV traffic between the hours of 20.00 and 05.00.
Transport Minister, Derek MacKay, said, ‘The decision to close the Forth Road Bridge is not taken lightly. It is based on the expert opinion of the engineers who operate the bridge day to day and that of independent experts in the field. Every effort is being made to open the bridge as quickly as possible but safety is the main priority, however these works are weather dependent given the height and location of the bridge. We are aware of the potential economic impact, for strategic traffic in the east of Scotland and on people living in local communities. This is an unprecedented challenge in the maintenance of the Forth Road Bridge.’
Stagecoach East Scotland’s bus and coach services which previously used the FRB has put on over 30 extra buses operating dedicated services from Park and Ride sites in Fife and on services between Fife and Edinburgh. Following the first morning rush after the travel plan came into action, it was found that buses using the priority routes were half an hour faster than predicted. Buses were not at capacity and passengers are being encouraged to travel by public transport rather than driving. Despite these improved journey times, passengers are reminded that December is peak travelling time and to take this in to consideration.
Scottish Citylink and megabus.com services which also use the bridge are being diverted via the Kincardine Bridge and Stirling, with an associated increase in journey times. Both services are providing additional vehicles and drivers where required to try to alleviate congestion and delays.
In response to requests from the Scottish Government, the DfT announced a temporary relaxation of drivers’ hours’ regulations for journeys affected by the closure of the bridge. These will apply until Wednesday 6 January 2016, or early if the bridge is re-opened sooner. The relaxation only applies to journeys which are directly affected by the closure, which would ordinarily have used the route or adjacent routes affected by it, and whose journey times have been extended as a result. The relaxation will apply to passenger service vehicle drivers on services delayed or extended due to the closure of the Forth Road Bridge, or on additional services introduced to provide emergency congestion relief.
In addition, the European drivers’ hours’ rules will be temporarily relaxed for those affected drivers. This will mean a replacement of the EU daily driving limit of nine hours with one of 11 hours, increasing the weekly driving limit from 56 hours to 66 hours and the fortnightly driving limit from 90 hours to 110 hours and the replacement of the maximum 60 hour working week with one of 66 hours (this extra time should be recorded, but not counted for the purposes of determining average working time).The CPT and FTA have welcomed the relaxation of the rules.
Transport Minister Derek Mackay, commented after the first working of the closure plan, ‘I believe our comprehensive travel plan has been effective but will be subject to constant monitoring, review, and adaptation.’ Transport Scotland recommends that commuters should refer to regular updates on social media channels for both the Forth Road Bridge and the South East Trunk Roads network: @forthroadbridge and @SETrunkRoads. Full details of the closure and diversion maps can be found here; https://www.forthroadbridge.org/