New Forth road bridge in all its glory – but who'll pay?

DISPUTES over the funding of the new £2.3 billion Forth Road Crossing must be resolved or motorists could face disastrous delays in their journeys, business groups warned yesterday.

• New images convey the massive height of the new Forth Road Crossing compared to the current road bridge

Ministers yesterday unveiled new legislation paving the way for a new bridge, which should be completed by 2016.

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But there were fresh concerns yesterday that a dispute between Holyrood and the Treasury over how to pay for it could lead to catastrophic delays.

Having failed to secure an advance from Whitehall to meet its cost, SNP ministers have said they will pay for the bridge from their own coffers. But it comes at a time when they are facing major budget cuts, prompting fears about how the government will afford it.

Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said last night: "We continue to seek early clarification on the financing of this key project. Construction must commence by 2011 if it is to be completed on time, yet very little of the 2.3 billion cost of the bridge has so far been budgeted."

A spokesman added: "We are getting closer and closer to the stage where digging begins. We can't afford any delays."

New images of the bridge, which will stand alongside the two crossings, were published yesterday. The present Forth Road Bridge will remain open, but only for public transport.

A new bridge was deemed necessary by ministers after surveys of the current crossing showed that it was weakening and could be closed to heavy vehicles within the next few years.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, warned that the new bridge must not come at the cost of other projects.

Liberal Democrat transport spokeswoman Alison McInnes said: "The Scottish Government need to sit down with the Treasury and establish a better funding package for this vital bridge. The proposed funding mechanism is unacceptable."

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The Scottish Government originally wanted to phase the cost of the new bridge over a longer period, but the Treasury has so refused requests for the Scottish Government's capital spending for future years to be brought forward.

UK ministers have offered 1bn to the Scottish Government to help pay for the upfront costs, but SNP officials insist this is not new money.

Yesterday's bill is expected to win parliamentary approval by the end of next year. The construction contract is expected to be awarded in spring 2011, with work commencing later that year.

Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson said: "Introduction of the Forth Crossing Bill marks a historic day for Scotland and makes this government's commitment to delivering the Forth replacement crossing in 2016 on time and on budget abundantly clear."

The new bridge will include a two-lane carriageway with hard shoulders, spanning approximately 2.7 kilometres.

It will be a cable-stayed bridge with three "mono-towers," two central spans of approximately 650 metres each, and approach viaducts, as well as trunk road connections north and south of the bridge.