The Evening News can exclusively reveal that efforts to save costs in building the Queensferry Crossing, the new bridge between Edinburgh and Fife that is taking shape over the Forth, have resulted in a critical flaw.
Engineers examining pre-fabricated steel beams imported from China have discovered that the combined length of the metal shipped to Scotland is insufficient, meaning workers will fall agonisingly short of completing the bridge from shore to shore.
Under the terms of the contract signed with its Chinese supplier, Transport Scotland cannot order additional materials without activating a penalty clause that could add millions to the cost of the project.
Scottish Government transport chiefs have therefore reluctantly decided to leave a 14-inch gap at the centre of the bridge, which they insist will be “completely safe”.
Opposition figures have called for a full public inquiry.
And the Evening News understands that the impact for drivers will be that as the Capital moves towards cutting speed limits on most streets to 20mph, drivers will face a minimum speed limit of 30mph on the Queensferry Crossing, so that vehicles clear the gap safely.
Electronic warning signs originally intended to broadcast weather conditions and safety warnings to drivers will also now remind drivers to accelerate on the approach to the centre of the bridge.
The cost of re-engineering “reverse” speed cameras is believed to be considerable.
Paolo Fril, Dean of Engineering at the University of Lisbon, said that while having a gap in the middle of a road bridge was rare, the Ponte de Mentira in his home city was one example of a bridge with a small gap that had claimed “almost no victims” since being opened.
Transport Scotland had previously proposed lowering the speed limit on the existing Forth Road Bridge because drivers were reportedly slowing down to look at construction work to the neighbouring new bridge.
Road safety campaigners have now warned that the problem could be exacerbated as drivers watch to see if cars are able to leap the gap between the two bridge spans.
However, those concerns were dismissed by a senior Scottish Government official, who claimed that the minimum speed limit would improve traffic flow, reducing the risk of jams on the Forth Road Bridge once the new bridge is complete.
The source added: “If Scotland had full power over the Crown Estate, which manages the UK’s offshore territory, then we would be able to explore the possibility of using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to bring the opposite shores of the Forth those few inches closer together.”
A highly placed council source denied that having a bridge which didn’t actually join up in the middle was a blow to the city’s integrated transport strategy, saying: “Drivers will barely feel the gap in the road surface as they drive over it. At 14 inches wide, the gap is much smaller than many of the potholes in Edinburgh’s roads.”
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