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Mackay’s bridge admission leaves crack in minister’s case

Terry beardOnly a few weeks ago the Forth Road Bridge was the focus of attention when the makers of a documentary on its construction were among the Bafta Scotland winners.

Few of those cheering that deserved award could have foreseen the different circumstances now surrounding the 51-year-old structure.

The discovery of a crack, which engineers say could have led to a six-inch drop, has forced its closure and prompted the biggest re-routing of traffic in living memory.

This is not just an inconvenience, it is a cost to the economy. Road hauliers alone claim it equates to £600,000 each day. Over three weeks that is a tidy sum.

Inevitably, the politicians are throwing mud at each other in what is in danger of becoming an unseemly blame game. Even so, the public has the right to know if any of the allegations about cutbacks to maintenance did lead us to today’s situation.

So far, the Transport minister Derek Mackay has only said the government would co-operate in an inquiry. He has not said the government will order one. And he should.

Apart from sparing us a political slanging match it will be necessary to allow for confirmation of Mr Mackay’s assertion that earlier problems are unrelated to the current one. It is unclear how that assertion squares with today’s admission that the Forth Estuary Transport Authority, the body which formerly operated the bridge, had looked at maintenance work five years ago which would have seen the replacement of the now cracked area and much more.

In light of what will no doubt turn into a buck passing game any time soon, any inquiry should should clearly establish the public and private sector responsibilities for the bridge and whether these need to be adjusted.

In the short term the government’s resilience committee has promised to consider undisclosed proposals by business groups that would amend the current contingency plans in order to minimise disruption to the economy. The public is also expressing its desire for some limited reopening to pedestrian and cycle traffic.

Safety is clearly the number one priority, but emergency vehicles are allowed to cross and it seems to be stretching the point to deny all access to all non-vehicular traffic. These may make only a small dent on the 70,000 daily crossings, but even a few hundred pedestrians and cyclists would ease pressure on the trains which are struggling to cope.

There are concerns that the repair work will take longer than expected Even so, ScotRail should also reconsider how ‘essential’ it is for maintenance on the rail bridge that will mean closing it on Xmas Day and Boxing Day. Many people, including shop workers, hotel staff, doctors, and many others who are on duty on these days will face a further problem getting to their work.

 

 

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