After the Queensferry Crossing closes, ‘Scottish Texan’ Kevan Christie discovers park-and-ride is quicker than driving to work.
To the weather and for the 2020th year in a row Scotland was taken by complete surprise this week, dear readers, with lashings of heavy rain, gusty winds and wee bits of snow in the month of February.
Four tourists (doughnuts) in jogging bottoms and trainers made their way up Ben Nevis as you do, for a casual stroll – only for the Lochaber Mountain Rescue team and the Inverness Coastguard helicopter to predictably come to their aid.
To say they were “not equipped for winter hillwalking” was something of an understatement but to be fair they did buy their rescuers, whisky, wine and what looked like Ferrero Rocher chocolates.
The Queensferry Crossing – gateway to the glorious Kingdom of Fife or, as I like to call it, Scotland’s Texas – was shut for a couple of days, leading to a mobilisation not seen since the days of Operation Market Garden in World War Two.
Resilient Fifers, did what they always do and adapted to the conditions with hundreds if not thousands of office workers deciding to park-and-ride from the Halbeath and Inverkeithing outposts.
I chose this option myself, leaving the estate in Crossgates and my trusty Toyota Auris, 2011 plate, behind as I prepared to embark on an epic journey into the unknown – on the bus.
This turned out to be quicker than driving, taking me just 28 minutes to arrive at Hootsman Towers on Queensferry Road, refreshed and raring to go.
World Road Resurfacing Championships
Of course the common sense thing would have been to open the Forth Road Bridge (FRB) to cars but as is increasingly the case in modern Scotland the simplest answer was not on offer.
Turns out the World Road Resurfacing Championships were taking place on the old FRB this week with road surfacers from 49 countries gathering to test their skills while buses drove perilously close by on the other lane – the open one. Motorists, tricyclists and folk on stilts were forced to divert the best part of 30 miles to the Kincardine Bridge, adding at least 90 minutes to their journeys.
Traffic Poileas were deployed to catch any motorist trying to make a dash for freedom across the FRB, Berlin-wall style; with strict orders to arrest them and throw their vehicles in the Forth. Harsh but fair.
We now have three bridges to cross a one-and-a-half mile stretch of water, although two out of the three weren’t open to cars on Tuesday (and you’re never supposed to drive on the third). There’s even a 3 Bridges bus tour to celebrate this level of incompetence; although the old Forth Bridge gets a pass – seeing as it was opened in 1890 with the Tay Bridge disaster still fresh in the memory. No Tay Bridge ‘Bouch job’ afforded there.
Meanwhile, Transport Secretary and former occupational therapist Michael Matheson exuded all the confidence of a man who isn’t sure what bucket day it was as he tried to explain the lack of action taken to stop ice falling from the crossing. “Grey bins (paper and cardboard) on a Tuesday, Michael.” Sorted.
Eight vehicles were damaged by shards of ice raining down like Thor’s thunderbolts from the cables on the Crossing and Matheson was left in no doubt by the commuters at least that he had been one serious injury away from getting his jotters.
Michael, not Rab
Facing the cameras in a jacket with the name Rab on it in a cunning attempt to hide his true identity, the Transport Secretary put on his serious face as he tried to explain why, despite there being a similar incident last year, the Scottish Government had done hee-haw to alleviate the problem.
When asked last year why the ice sensors had not been installed after three vehicles had their windscreens smashed by falling ice in a previous incident, Matheson said: “Incidents like the one on the Queensferry Crossing in March 2019 are extremely rare.”
This made things a bit awkward for the legions of SNP fans who had taken to Twitter after digesting ‘Bridges for Dummies’ to say “this sort of thing happens all the time with these types of bridges” – by way of defence.
Some of them took a break from their Duolingo Gaelic lessons to helpfully list other bridge closures including the M48 Severn Crossing, A628 Woodhead Bridge, M62 Ouse Bridge, A14 Orwell Bridge, A55 Britannia Bridge and the Øresund Bridge connecting Copenhagen and Malmö. Cheers for the heads-up, much appreciated. The Tories on the other hand reacted calmly and in no way sought to politicise a bit of bad wevva and travel by saying that the bridge closure exposed an SNP Government in the “throes of capitulation”. Although they never elaborated on what they were capitulating to... rain, snow, Fifers?
New SNP spin doctor and erstwhile Daily Record editor Murray Foote, meanwhile, put the boot into arch-Tory Jackson Carlaw by reminding him that he was part of the Holyrood committee which chose the design and approved the route for The Queensferry Crossing. ‘Telt.’
Not to be outdone by a few mouthy Jocks in the bridge stakes – Boris Johnson channeled his inner Isambard Kingdom Brunel to revive plans to build a £20 billion bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland.
This was welcomed with open arms by Orange people and Old Firm fans who often make the trip across the water from both sides to shout a lot, drink lager and bang drums. A slight hurdle to this plan comes in the form of the one million tons of munitions, including 14,500 tons of five-inch artillery rockets filled with phosgene gas that lie in the route.
But hey, at least they won’t have to worry about ice if that lot goes off.