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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

FORTH BRIDGE - from £19.5 million to £4.2 billion

For once in my life I am going to agree with the Greens. They don't want this either.

The Scottish government have decided to build a new Forth Bridge.

"A new bridge is to be built across the Firth of Forth, just west of the existing suspension road crossing.
The cable stayed-style bridge is due to open in about 2016 and will cost between £3.2bn and 4.2bn.

Finance Secretary John Swinney told Parliament that concerns over the future viability of the existing bridge meant the government had to act now.

Ruling out a tunnel, he said the chosen option would deliver the crossing in the quickest possible timescale.....

He went on: "It will be an iconic structure. It will maintain a fundamental link across the River Forth. It will create a new and better connection to our transport infrastructure in west and east central Scotland.

"And it will be delivered through effective and comprehensive care for our natural environment"....

The five-and-a-half year construction project is expected to get under way in 2011, with a competition to find a constructor due to be launched the year before
."

Back when the cost was a mere £2.5 billion (June this year) I asked why it was so high. The previous road bridge cost £19.5 million which converts today to £314 million. I have asked why exactly real costs have gone up 8 times (now 10 to 13 times) & received no answer except for an implication it is "environmental" & other paperwork costs. The £314 seems in line with overseas experience such as the 2.1 km Sydney cross city tunnel at £300 million.

The official cost of a tunnel is even higher & very much looks like it has been set high so that it will make the bridge look good. We know the Norwegian government have been building tunnels at between £3.5 & £11 million per km which should produce a Forth tunnel at about 1% of the quoted price. The laws of physics are the same on both sides of the North Sea.

I don't believe the rush to build this based on the original claim the current bridge was about to fall down because the cables were going. This story seems now to be winding down & I very strongly suspect it will be found possible to re-rope this bridge for about £10 million - just after contracts are signed on a new bridge. If so then there is no urgency & we need not be bounced into this.

We are entitled to know exactly why the Scots government cannot build things at less than 10 to 100 times what it costs in the rest of the world. If it is regulatory we should remove such regulations. If it is corruption we should prosecute.

The point about buying a pig in a poke is that it is unwise to buy without seeing what it is. This applies equally when discussing a £4.2 billion pig.

Any new crossing should be openly arrived at, knowing whether it is actually needed & with an open bidding process including foreign bidders. Bidders should be invited to quote for any form of crossing - so long as it does the job. We are also entitled to full explanation of why building costs so much higher in Scotland. Only when all facts are on the table should a decision be made.

I note that, unlike the last bridge this is going to be toll free. Perhaps this is due to the generosity of taxpayers towards motorists or perhaps it is because with probable interest payments on this running at at least £300 million a year there is no possible way that tolls could pay for it, as they did for the previous bridge & not charging anything handily conceals that this project makes no economic sense.

Comments:
Neil,

I work on the south side of the Forth Bridge. There is a definite need for another crossing, I see that every day when I am in the office.

I do agree that a tunnel should be investigated further, and we should get a quote from our pals across the sea, since they can clearly knock out a tunnel a lot cheaper than we can...

The greens though, are simply luddites. Their unique brand of champagne socialism allows them to live in city centres and do a spot of work every now and then when they feel like it. A couple of hundred folk who work where I do, live in Fife and commute across the road bridge. They do not have that luxury, and if there's congestion on the bridge, or an accident, then the nearest crossing is Kincardine, or Stirling.

I have blogged several times about why the trains are not a viable alternative, although I do persevere with them since it means I don't have to worry about sobriety.
 
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