BANNING heavy lorries from the Forth Road Bridge until February will cost firms more than £40 million, hauliers warned as the crossing re-opened to other vehicles today.
Transport minister Derek Mackay made the surprise announcement that traffic could cross again from 6am after temporary repairs were completed two weeks earlier than expected. Bridge officials said permanent repairs may need overnight lane closures, but should not cause more disruption.
However, haulage firms condemned the decision to continue the lorry ban for another six weeks until the repair was completed as a “catastrophe”.
The Road Haulage Association said the bridge closure since Friday 4 December had already cost the industry £9.6m because of the need for diversions of around 50 miles via the Kincardine or Clackmannshire bridges.
Chief executive Richard Burnett said: “If hauliers have to wait until the end of February to resume a normal service, we can confidently predict the cost will be in excess of £40m.
“The news they will continue to face delays and a massive increase in cost will, for many, prove to be unsustainable.”
I am pleased that we are now able to reopen the bridge to 90 per cent of traffic, well ahead of schedule.Derek Mackay
The Freight Transport Association said the news was a “devastating blow”, since most firms had been forced to absorb the extra cost because they were on fixed-price contracts.
Chris MacRae, the organisation’s head of policy for Scotland, said some firms were thinking of moving depots because of the closure, which had already cost some of its members around £50,000 each.
Labour public services spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “It now falls to the SNP government to outline what compensation will be available to businesses who lost out as a result of this essential piece of infrastructure being shut down at a crucial time for the Scottish economy.”
Mr Mackay admitted there would be “considerable disappointment” at the lorry decision and pledged to discuss extra support with hauliers during the extended lorry ban. He praised engineers for working round the clock to repair the crack in the truss, a network of girders which supports the carriageways.
Today’s bridge reopening effectively means the work has been completed on schedule, since Mr Mackay originally said it would take a week to plan and two weeks to finish.
Extra time was added in case work was delayed by bad weather, but it was not required.
The minister said: “For the complex and detailed interim repair to have been completed in this timeframe is a tribute to the highly skilled and dedicated staff who have worked 24/7 since 3 December.
“Since the closure was put in place, weather conditions have been mainly favourable and the team have been able to complete the repair work in good time.
“This has been an unprecedented challenge.”
Police Scotland said it had the power to stop lorry drivers crossing the bridge and would be mounting a high-profile operation, backed by cameras.
Bridge officials are concerned the ban is enforced round the clock, but police said that their presence “will depend on operational circumstances”.
Lorries will be intercepted and diverted to holding areas on either side of the bridge.
A police spokesman was unable to say last night what penalties truckers could face for breaking the temporary traffic regulation order.
However, he said cases were likely to be reported to the procurator fiscal for prosecution rather fixed penalties being issued – underlining the seriousness of the offence.
Superintendent Fraser Candlish said: “We will be enforcing the closure to heavy goods vehicles.”