Celebrating 50 years of Clyde's great crossing - John Yellowlees

The Sixties were the postwar decade most associated with modernisation, so it is appropriate that they saw completion of Scotland's greatest estuarial crossings the Forth and Tay Road Bridges, along with the M8 Kingston Bridge across the Clyde.

The minimalistic single-cable design of the Erskine Bridge was exceptionally rare for a large-scale road bridge,
The minimalistic single-cable design of the Erskine Bridge was exceptionally rare for a large-scale road bridge,

It would be in the last two decades of the twentieth century that attention turned to completing the road network north of the Great Glen by provision of the Kessock, Cromarty, Dornoch and Kylesku crossings and the Skye Bridge.

The 1970s were a less productive time as befitted the national mood of those troubled days, with the main achievement being the Ballachulish Bridge which together with conversion of former railway crossings at Connel Ferry and much later at Creagan would complete the modern A828 up the west coast. At the beginning of that decade came perhaps the most understated of them all, the Erskine Bridge the 50th anniversary of whose opening by the Princess Royal will be reached on 2 July this year.

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A fifteen-span cable-stayed box girder bridge 660 metres in length that carries the A898 at a height of 45 metres across the Clyde, Erskine was at the time of building the longest bridge of its type in the world, and it remains the only one in Scotland with single cables over central main supports. Steel was used to construct the deck and pylons, and the piers were made from concrete.

The ferry crossing that the Bridge replaced from Erskine to Old Kilpatrick was reputedly the oldest on the Clyde, and had become necessary when the river was dredged for navigation The Clyde Navigation Trust acquired the service in 1907 and introduced a vehicle ferry-boat. Three vessels latterly operated the five-minute crossing, charging a florin for a car and driver which became 10p at decimalisation just before closure.

The Bridge had to be strengthened in accordance with new standards brought in after the 1970 collapse of another cable-stayed structure the West Gate Bridge in Melbourne which cost 35 lives. It was struck by an oil rig the Texaco Captain in August 1996, resulting in closure which lasted four months for HGVs.

Though a proposed Glasgow Outer Orbital route using it was never built, this great crossing of the Clyde links Glasgow Airport to its full hinterland by offering direct access towards Dunbartonshire and Argyll. Shoppers can make way straight for Braehead, while tourists can head straight for Loch Lomond and the West Highlands. Design was by Dr William Brown (1928–2005) of Freeman Fox & Partners, a structural engineer and designer who specialised in suspension bridges. The bridge is now part of the trunk road network of Scotland, and is the responsibility of Transport Scotland. There is a human cost to progress : suicides have led to the Samaritans placing signs at each path leading onto the bridge and also within four public telephone boxes situated on the twin footpaths running adjacent to the roadway on either side. A 60p toll was scrapped from April 1 2006 to relieve congestion on the Kingston Bridge and Clyde Tunnel.

Announcing the listing of the Erskine Bridge in 2018, Historic Environment Scotland said that it was a state-of-the-art infrastructure landmark for its time, recognised for its structural simplicity, economy of materials and slender appearance. The minimalistic single-cable design - which was exceptionally rare for a large-scale road bridge - combined with a largely unchanged appearance had made it one of the country’s most innovative bridges of the twentieth century, whose national importance was recognised by awarding it Category A status.

Happy Birthday, Erskine Bridge!

John Yellowlees, Scottish Chair, Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport

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