Friday, January 16, 2009
Hamish MacDonell's article [(Tuesday) on the history of Forth crossings] is quite right to point out that the cost of the previous bridge, in today's inflated money, would be about £300 million - one fourteenth of the estimate for an equivalent bridge today & one seventh of the mini version now proposed. For some time I have been trying to get anybody in power to explain why this is, without success. [ My suspicion is that it is entirely because of the morass of government bureaucracy which has built up in recent years. If so the answer is obvious.]
Richard Rogers recently said that of the £670 million spent building the Millenium Dome only £46 million was actually spent on building it so we clearly have a problem.
Technology has progressed since the previous bridge & the Norwegians have cut over 700 km of tunnels at £3.5 to £10 million per km. The tunnels for the Glendoe power station were also of this order. Government's reaction to automatically reject it on NIH grounds (Not Invented Here) but a Forth Tunnel could be cut for about £40 million.
One suggestion from the paper's online comments is that a tunnel, being less visible, does not have the iconic spin off value for politicians. That suggests a poor view of the vanity of politicians but may have some truth.
There was also a very good letter yesterday comparing the cost with the Severn bridge:
Hamish Macdonell (Debate & Opinion, 13 January) was spot-on: the Forth Road Bridge cost £20 million in 1964 and is worth £280 million in 2009. However, he did not question why the new bridge is to cost more than eight times the cost of the original. It is ironic that, due to the financial situation, the price of steel has plummeted close to 1964 prices, and it is amazing how everyone has accepted the extortionate cost of £2.34 billion without question.
That the Welsh got a six-lane, motorway-standard bridge, at twice the length of the Forth's proposed four-lane one, for a mere £300 million under a PFI scheme with Laings seems not to have registered at Holyrood or Westminster. Holyrood has even more reason to question the cost when the Scottish Government's own renowned financial adviser, Professor John Kay, has already "expressed astonishment" at the proposed cost. As a cable-stayed structure, even after the price was virtually halved from £4.2 billion, it remains by far the world's most expensive – before the finance is sorted.
Here is one of my previous articles with a link to the Norwegian tunnel prices.
Tolling does not have to slow traffic, since there is technical solution. In the northeastern US the freeways were constructed before the Interstate Highway act and therefore are not federally subsidized. Since these freeways need to pay their own way the states have formed state-owned self-financing corporations to run them. The toll authorities in the Northeastern US developed an electronic radio tag that goes under a cars rearview mirror. Drivers that have this tag have special lanes that go around the tollbooths, so that they do not have to stop. The firth bridge could have two sets of lanes near the toll plaza, one for cash drivers and one for ezpass drivers.