Engineers are “closely monitoring” the ice and snow forming on the Queensferry Crossing after falling shards forced the bridge’s closure, the Transport Secretary has said.
Following a meeting with engineers on the bridge, Michael Matheson said a build-up of ice on towers and cables formed in “unique weather conditions” following Storm Ciara.
The crossing over the Forth, which was shut on Monday night following reports of vehicles being hit by falling ice, is expected to remain closed until Wednesday.
Speaking after his visit to the Queensferry Crossing and the Traffic Scotland National Control Centre in South Queensferry, Mr Matheson said: “We are developing our understanding of these conditions, which involve a certain consistency of snow and/or sleet, wind speed and direction, interacting with fluctuating low temperatures.
“This is leading to an ice formation on the bridge’s towers and cables at low temperature, which has subsequently fallen from the bridge when thawed.”
Mr Matheson said he appreciated the patience of frustrated motorists who have been redirected across the Forth by a 35-mile diversion.
“We are doing all we can to mitigate the impacts of this closure,” he said.
“A diversion route is in place via the Kincardine Bridge and I would encourage those travelling from further away to more strategic destinations – Perth or Dundee to Glasgow, for example – to consider an alternative route avoiding the main diversion where possible.
“We continue to work closely with public transport providers to provide alternative transport and additional capacity.
“Additional buses are in operation, including additional bus services from rail stations which are experiencing higher than normal demand.”
Explaining the decision not to reopen the Forth Road Bridge to all traffic, rather than just public transport, Mr Matheson said it was because “it is currently undergoing significant renovation work on the main expansion joints and has a contraflow in operation”.
He added: “Opening the Forth Road Bridge up to general traffic is likely to result in increased congestion for all vehicles and leave the crossing vulnerable to lengthy delays as a result of any accidents or breakdowns.
“This would have a significant negative impact on journey times for public transport over the Forth.
“Looking ahead, we will implement constant monitoring of the Queensferry Crossing, when similar weather conditions are expected, with a particular focus on the areas we now know as vulnerable to this ice accumulation.
“We are taking steps to improve our traffic management response to any incidents so that ice can be cleared and any risk minimised.”
Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland on Tuesday morning, Mr Matheson defended the lack of action to stop ice falling from the bridge, saying its designers were planning to install ice sensors on to the structure “in the coming months” but no contract had yet been awarded for the work to be done.
Arguing the Queensferry Crossing “has given us much greater resilience than the old Forth Road Bridge”, he said there have been approximately 30 occasions where the new bridge has remained open when its predecessor would have been partially or fully shut.
Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Greene said it was “a miracle that no-one was injured”, describing the falling ice as a “very fundamental and serious issue”.
Criticising the failure to address the problem, he said: “We raised this with the Scottish Government, we asked questions of the Transport Minister and frankly we were given reassurances this would be identified and resolved.
“So it’s not a case of whether or not the bridge should have been closed for safety reasons, the question is why they didn’t fix the problem first time round?”