ENGINEERING chiefs had been “constantly worried” about the section of the Forth Road Bridge which eventually failed, forcing its closure, the former bridgemaster has told MSPs.
Barry Colford told an inquiry into the three-week closure of the bridge in December that he had drawn up plans to replace the truss-end links five year ago – but the repair work was axed amid funding concerns.
By 2010-11 we certainly had identified that we needed to replace the truss-end links, they were put in the capital programmeBarry Colford
The closure caused widespread disruption for thousands of commuters travelling between Fife and Edinburgh. Parts of the truss-end links had been “overstressed”, Mr Colford said. He also hit out at claims from Transport Scotland chiefs that proposals to repair the component were merely on a “wish-list”.
He insisted that a £15 million plan to replace the area around where the crack appeared was a priority “needed” to maintain the bridge’s integrity. It was postponed after a 58 per cent Scottish Government funding cut.
He said: “It was one of the constant worries on the bridge, along with the cable anchorages, the end of the truss, the truss members themselves, the main cable suspender. It’s a lively old structure designed to take half the traffic loading that it takes. It continually needed work and funding.”
A “capital programme” of repairs on the bridge was set out by the former Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) in 2011, including a proposal to replace the entire truss-end links area which eventually failed. But this was postponed after the funding cut.
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Regarding the wish-list claim, Mr Colford said: “It was a capital plan of what was needed on the Forth Road Bridge in our professional judgment.” He declined to say whether replacement work would have avoided the closure.
The decision to scrap tolls on the bridge in 2008 hit maintenance funds, as this revenue had been devoted to the bridge’s upkeep.
Asked about the scrapping of the truss-end replacement plan, Mr Colford said: “Obviously finances come into that. Post-tolling we were in the slightly anomalous position of Feta having the governance of the bridge but the funding came from a third party.”
Scottish Labour deputy leader Alex Rowley claimed: “The reality is the SNP made short-sighted cuts to essential maintenance budgets which meant that an essential piece of infrastructure was shut down at a crucial time for the Scottish economy.”
Feta had proposed to replace the entire truss-end links area, although Mr Colford admitted engineers had been more worried about the “welds” failing than the pins which eventually seized and caused a crack.
The links are part of the suspended span truss, analysis of which was carried out with consultants into its integrity.
Mr Colford said: “Significant elements of the truss were overstressed, including the links and the connection to the side towers. So significant members within that truss were overstressed.”
He added; “By 2010-11 we certainly had identified that we needed to replace the truss-end links, they were put in the capital programme.”
Mr Colford said that while he did not believe the seizure of the pin was “foreseeable”, and it was not the primary reason for the planned truss-end links work, that work would have seen the pins replaced. He said: “The pins were always a concern, not just for myself, but also for my predecessors.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “Before the dissolution of FETA earlier this year, FETA were responsible for decisions relating to how repairs were prioritised on the Forth Road Bridge.
“Transport Scotland was clear that these decisions must not compromise the structural integrity of the bridge.
“FETA had the option of coming to Transport Scotland for funding for emergency repairs when required.
“No such approach was made for work relating to the truss end links.”