Tay Road Bridge celebrates 50th anniversary

As with many monumental feats of modern British engineering, the Tay Road Bridge roared into life with the blessing of a royal.

An engineer surveys construction of the Tay Road Bridge. Picture: TSPL

50 years ago today, thousands turned out to watch from the Tayside as the Queen Mother opened the new transport link between Dundee and the Kingdom of Fife.

Observers in Scotland at the time could hardly find a more fitting metaphor for the march of progress than the first cars rolling over it on 18th August, 1966.

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Spanning 1.4 miles across the river, it was at the time one of the longest road bridges in Europe.

Tay Road Bridge under construction. Picture: TSPL

Such progress though ushered the abrupt end of a common sight on the Tay; the regular ferries between Dundee and Newport-on-Tay.

Affectionately dubbed ‘the Fifies’, the much-loved ferries carried generations of passengers and vehicles across the estuary.

By the 1950s, however, the ferries were struggling to meet demand as the volume of traffic increased and a solution was sorely needed.

Appetite for a road bridge across the Tay had been strong for decades but it wasn’t until May 1957 - some 70 years since the construction of the second rail bridge - that the idea gained finally traction in the political discourse of the day.

Traffic starts to flow across after the Queen Mother opens the bridge in August 1966. Picture: TSPL

Construction began on the bridge in 1963, which controversially saw the demolition of Dundee’s Royal Arch to make way for the structure.

On an average day, it carries some 26,000 vehicles, more than five times the load it was designed to carry.

The £4.5 million structure was strengthened a few years ago in order to carry 44-tonne lorries at a cost of £3.8 million, and while it may not service as many vehicles as the Forth Road Bridge (which carries 4,000 more on average), it remains one of the most vital pieces of engineering in Scotland.

Its fifty-year history has remained relatively unblemished, in spite of an unsuccessful campaign for a slogan for the bridge in 2002 run by local radio station Tay FM.

The Queen Mother stands at the Fife end after she opens the Tay Bridge in August 1966. Picture: TSPL

The frontrunner was ‘It’s all downhill to Dundee’, on account of the sloping gradient of the bridge from the higher land in Fife. Needless to say, the push for a slogan quickly stalled.

To mark the occasion, a weekend of celebrations are planned on both sides of the river, including vintage bus trips along the bridge as well as a Harley Davidson convoy.

Boat trips on the Tay are also planned (which are now fully booked) to replicate the old ‘Fifies’ route.

Aerial of the Tay road bridge in July 1966 before its official opening. Picture: TSPL

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Tay Road Bridge under construction. Picture: TSPL
Traffic starts to flow across after the Queen Mother opens the bridge in August 1966. Picture: TSPL
The Queen Mother stands at the Fife end after she opens the Tay Bridge in August 1966. Picture: TSPL
Aerial of the Tay road bridge in July 1966 before its official opening. Picture: TSPL