MINISTERS have admitted that gridlock on roads heading into the Capital may be inevitable after closure of the Forth Road Bridge – despite taking “exceptional steps” to ease congestion.
Transport minister Derek Mackay MSP and travel operators said the situation was “fluid” as they unveiled a raft of measures to enhance public transport links and pleaded with commuters to consider car-sharing, working from home or avoiding peak times.
Today is set to be a major test for the transport network as the Christmas period gets into full flow and commuters begin the working week.
On a typical weekday, an average of 70,000 vehicles use the bridge and, during the peak morning period, around 6300 vehicles cross the structure southbound.
It was revealed yesterday that there was a “residual gap”, equating to around 2000 cars, which may not be absorbed under the alternative arrangements.
Mr Mackay said: “What’s hard to predict is how many people will still choose to drive at that point considering the public information that’s out there, the alternatives that are in place and the advice that’s been given. It will be unpredictable because of the different choices that people will make.”
Scotrail will provide an additional 6500 seats by pulling carriages from other services and taking trains out of refurbishment programmes, increasing capacity by 40 per cent.
Stagecoach will put on 33 extra buses as part of a park-and-ride priority service between Fife and Edinburgh.
The journey will take two hours and will be charged at a reduced special fare rate of £3 for an adult return.
To help cope, the A965 between Cairneyhill and Longannet in Fife became a priority-only route for buses and HGVs from 4am this morning.
A “comprehensive” new website dedicated to travel options for Forth Road Bridge users was also launched yesterday.
Mr Mackay insisted that the 20mm-wide crack in a steel truss under the southbound carriageway, which prompted the closure, was only found on Tuesday and said the decision to shut the bridge until the New Year had been the right thing to do.
He said further assessments were being carried out on the bridge, with engineers “working around the clock”.
A round-table discussion will be held tomorrow to assess how the contingency plans are working.
Mr Mackay added: “The FRB carries 100,000 people on a typical weekday. We know it will be under considerable pressure with that displacement. I would encourage people to use public transport with the enhancements that we have been able to put in place.”
He said the Scottish Government was liaising with the business community and the UK government to try to mitigate the impact.
Yesterday’s announcements came after one of the main bridge diversion routes was closed following a serious crash.
A 25-year-old man was taken to Forth Valley Royal Hospital with significant injuries after the smash on the A985 Valleyfield at around 7am.
The country has also been recovering from Storm Desmond, which hit over the weekend with damaging winds and relentless rain. The conditions caused a FedEx lorry to jack-knife and crash into the central reservation on the M8 at Bathgate, West Lothian, leading to lane closures in both directions.
Predictions of further bad weather over the coming weeks have sparked fears that reopening the bridge could be delayed by months.
Engineers have warned that more high winds forecast could cause chaos to the repair timetable.
Design engineer Angus Cormie said: “The logistical aspect is challenging and is very weather dependent.”