CUTS to the budget for the Forth Road Bridge are forcing further delays in maintenance projects and increasing the risk to its long-term future, the bridgemaster has warned.
The 58 per cent reduction in Scottish Government funding for the bridge has already led to the postponement of resurfacing, repainting and other work.
The Forth Estuary Transport Authority, which operates the crossing, has had to use its cash reserves for unexpected major repairs, replacing the nuts and bolts which link the main cable to the bridge’s vertical supports.
It is also facing a £2.1 million rise in the cost of another key project, carrying out an examination of the anchorage points.
Despite this, the government has refused requests for additional funding.
Now bridgemaster Barry Colford has told the FETA board there is no option but to defer further priority projects until after 2015.
Outlining options in his report to the board, Mr Colford said: “It should be noted that deferral of part or all of these projects does increase the risk to the long-term structural integrity of the bridge and is likely to increase the actual cost of the works when they are eventually carried out.”
The board accepted his reluctant recommendation that they should postpone work on replacing under-deck gantries, which give workers safe access to hard-to-reach parts of the structure below the roadway. The work was budgeted at a total of £200,000.
Mr Colford said: “It means we don’t have the access we feel we need to carry out the inspections and maintenance as effectively as we would like.”
Work will go ahead, however, on a £330,000 contract to remove the temporary “dropped object canopy” put up as protection for bridge-users during painting work on the main towers.
Mr Colford said deferring the contract would mean leaving a structure which had components with a limited design life in place above the carriageway until some unknown date after 2015.
The government has slashed the capital budget for the bridge for the next three years from £33.1m to just £13.8m.
Edinburgh transport convener Lesley Hinds said the massive cut would inevitably have an effect on bridge.
After Friday’s FETA meeting, she said: “It was very clear board members were concerned about the risks which the bridgemaster identified.
“Over the years there has been regular investment in the bridge to ensure it is kept in good condition, but if you cut such a large amount of capital funding it inevitable reduces what work is done and the bridgemaster is saying there is a risk here. That has to be a concern.”
She said Transport Scotland was being invited to the next meeting of the FETA board in September to discuss concerns about the cuts.
After the opening of the new Forth Replacement Crossing, due in 2016, the plan is for the existing bridge to become a dedicated public transport crossing, reserved for buses, taxis and cycles, though some critics have voiced scepticism about how long such an arrangement could continue if congestion became a regular problem on the new crossing.