IT MAY face early retirement because of the strain of the job, but it now has the prospect of a new lease of life as a tourist attraction.
The 49-year-old Forth Road Bridge would be transformed into a commercial Sydney Harbour Bridge-style visitor attraction after traffic is switched to the adjacent Forth Replacement Crossing in three years, under new plans being considered.
With the removal of most of the 65,000 vehicles a day pounding its deck, the bridge could be opened to tourists to explore the structure, including the top of its 500ft-high towers.
Local business chiefs hailed the scheme as a “massive opportunity”, which would build on celebrations to mark the bridge’s 50th birthday next year, the Forth Bridge’s 125th in 2015 and the opening of the new road bridge the following year.
First Minister Alex Salmond is keen to showcase the bridges to the world to highlight Scottish engineering expertise, with the Forth Bridges Forum, which includes transport, heritage and tourism bodies, established to draw up plans.
The Forth Road Bridge would be reserved for buses and taxis, making the existing foot and cycle paths, segregated from the main carriageways on either side of the bridge, a much more pleasant experience.
There is also thought to be scope for increasing the number of people able to visit the top of the towers by internal lift, which few have experienced so far. Catwalks under the bridge deck might also be opened.
Network Rail is examining the feasibility of a public viewing platform on top of the Forth Bridge, while a bridges visitor centre could be created in the new Forth Replacement Crossing “contact and education centre” in South Queensferry.
More than three million people have taken tours of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia since 1998.
The Forth Estuary Transport Authority, which runs the Forth Road Bridge, said removing
traffic provided scope “to make use of the structure in new and interesting ways”.
Spokesman Chris Waite said: “To operate a commercial visitor attraction like Sydney Harbour Bridge, significant modifications to the structure would be required. However, with the right investment there seems little doubt that the chance to climb the bridge could be a major visitor attraction.
“The Forth Road Bridge is a far bigger and more significant structure than Sydney Harbour Bridge, and its setting alongside the iconic rail bridge and the Forth Replacement Crossing would make it a magnet for bridge enthusiasts.”
Diane Brown, project manager of business development group Queensferry Ambition, said: “There is a massive business opportunity here – being able to go up the towers would be a real ‘gold ticket’ experience.”
The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency said the forum was examining plans. Its spokesman said: “The Forth road and rail bridges are already well recognised icons of Scotland and offer some of our most breathtaking images.
“We are keen to build on the high level of public interest from home and abroad in the existing structures and the Forth Replacement Crossing,
“The forum is of the view that there is a market for a visitor attraction centred on the three Forth bridges, and will look at options for encouraging potential tourists to make a Forth Bridges visitor attraction a must see/must do experience.
“Before committing, it is essential some analysis is undertaken.”