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The bridge:

History Timeline

‘Guid Passage’ was the fitting motto given the Forth Road Bridge at its opening in 1964. Today, this elegant and hard-working Scottish icon of engineering provides a safe crossing for more than 24 million vehicles each year. Click on the illustrations above to read more about the key dates in the crossing's history.

1130: Pilgrims regularly travelled north to St Andrews to worship at the site of the saint’s relics, a practice that became increasingly popular during the reign of King Malcolm III. To assist the holy in their pilgrimage, the church established a regular ferry service to allow speedy passage across the Firth of Forth. The crossing became known as the ‘Queen’s Ferry’, after Malcolm’s wife Margaret.

1164: In a charter granted by Malcolm IV, the crossing was officially named Passagium Regina, the Queen’s Passage.
1320: The chapel at the North Queensferry landing point of Robert the Bruce was dedicated to Dunfermline Abbey by the first king of Scotland. Free passage on the ferry was granted to the Abbey’s priors and canons along with their monks and goods.
1568: Mary Queen of Scots regularly used the ferry, most famously following her legendary escape from imprisonment in Loch Leven Castle.
1740: The need for a road crossing of what was by this time known as the Queensferry Passage was discussed seriously for the first time. Numerous plans to bridge the Firth of Forth were dreamed up, developed and discarded throughout the 18th century.
1811: A report dated 15 May, 1811 indicates the volume of traffic using the ferry over the course of the preceding year. In the space of 12 months, more than 83,000 people, almost 6,000 carts and carriages and over 44,000 animals risked a drenching (even death) by taking to the treacherous waters on the boats.
1817: Plans for a chain bridge across the Firth of Forth were drawn up by Edinburgh civil engineer and land surveyor James Anderson. The unrealistic design was promptly discarded.
1821: Steam power came to the Firth of Forth with the launch of the paddleboat Queen Margaret. Although her paddles prevented the boat from taking wheeled traffic on board from the pier, she became a popular choice for foot passengers seeking a more reliable means of crossing the estuary than sail power.
1879: The tragic collapse of Thomas Bouch’s Tay Bridge, a major disaster that caused more than 70 railway passengers to lose their lives, put a dramatic halt to construction of the Bouch-designed Forth railway crossing, which had only recently begun.
1883: In the same year that the building of the redesigned Forth Bridge began, construction of the New York and Brooklyn Bridge (now known simply as Brooklyn Bridge) was completed, with a main span of 486 metres. On opening, the American bridge became the world’s longest suspension bridge and today continues to occupy a prominent place in New York City’s skyline.
1890: For the first time, the Firth of Forth is bridged, providing an alternative means of travel to the ferries that had traversed the waters for centuries. Designed by Sir John Fowler and Benjamin Baker to look indestructible, the Forth Bridge was officially completed on 4 March 1890, when HRH Edward Prince of Wales added the final rivet to the awe-inspiring cantilever structure.
1923: With the steady advance of the motor age, the need for a road crossing over the Firth of Forth became more urgent than ever. Though he didn’t live to see the bridge built, J Inglis Ker was instrumental in its conception. Ker first presented his proposals at the Hawes Inn, South Queensferry in 1923. Crucially, he won the support of Sir Henry Maybury, Ministry of Transport, the following year.
1929: Work to investigate suitable sites for the road bridge began some five years after 30 Scottish MPs campaigned for the Ministry of Transport to agree to a survey. Messrs. Mott, Hay & Anderson was involved in the bridge plans from these very early days, the firm’s civil and structural engineers responsible for conducting these initial investigations. Three possible locations were examined and the possibility of a tunnel crossing explored.

(Photo reproduced with acknowledgement to Peter Stubbs www.edinphoto.org.uk)

1931: Celebrations were held to mark the opening of the George Washington Bridge, which crosses the Hudson River and connects Manhattan with New Jersey. Upon its completion, the GW Bridge took over from the Brooklyn Bridge as the world’s longest suspension bridge, with a main span of 1100 metres. Development work in recent years has made it the world’s only 14-lane suspension bridge.
1937: Undoubtedly one of the world’s most iconic bridges, the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, providing road traffic with a fast route between San Francisco and Marin County. With a main span of 1280 metres, the Golden Gate Bridge seized the title of world’s longest suspension bridge from the GW Bridge. Today it is the second longest suspension bridge in the States.
1947: The national economic crisis of the 1930s and the outpagebreak of the Second World War meant that road crossing plans were shelved until the late 1940s. The Forth Road Bridge Order 1947 approved Macintosh Rock as the site for the bridge and the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board was established to supervise construction. Yet the work continued to be delayed.

1957: The Mackinac Bridge in Michigan opened with a main span of 1158 metres, making it the world’s third longest suspension bridge.
1958: Finally, the green light was given for bridge building to begin on 10 February. Consulting engineers Freeman Fox & Partners worked alongside Messrs Mott, Hay & Anderson to oversee the bridge’s design and supervise its construction.

To save the contract from going overseas, the three largest construction engineering firms in Britain formed a consortium to take on the mammoth project. Comprising Sir William Arrol & Company, The Cleveland Bridge & Engineering Company and Dorman Long (Bridge & Engineering) Ltd, the group became known as the ACD Bridge Company Ltd.

Construction commenced in September with the preparation of the site.

1960: When the building of the towers was under way, people flocked from near and far to watch the bridge begin to take shape. Bridge construction at the time was a daunting task and it was fascinating for folk on the ground to watch the brave builders scale the emerging structure.
1961: Once the cable anchorages had been bored into the rock on either side of the Forth and the bridge’s twin towers were in place, the cable spinning began. Because this method had never before been used in Europe, a training school was set up in South Queensferry for the would-be cable spinners. By August 1962, the men had created the bridge’s two enormous cables from 30,000 miles of steel wire – enough to reach around the world 1¼ times.
1963: On 20 December, the final two box girders needed to complete the main span of the bridge were swung into place. To mark the momentous occasion, the girders were swathed in the Union Jack and Lion Rampant. Remarkably, when the girders met, the two halves of the bridge were no more than an inch or so out of line.
1964: Its roadway and footpath completed, asphalt surfacing in place and lighting installed, the Forth Road Bridge was opened to great fanfare by HM The Queen on 4 September. Commemorative stamps went on sale the same day to celebrate the world’s most northerly long span suspension bridge and the longest suspension bridge in the world outside the USA.

Around 16,000 people were invited to the official ceremony, which included a 21-gun salute fired by Royal Navy ships in the estuary. A further 50,000 members of the public turned out to witness the historic occasion from either shore, in spite of the thick mist that threatened to conceal the bridge from view.

Traffic began to flow across the bridge at 5.48pm, and as many as 20,000 half crowns were presented at the tolls in the following 3½ hours.

With a main span of 1006 metres, the Forth Road Bridge was the world’s fourth longest suspension bridge for 78 days, until the opening of New York’s Verrazano Narrows Bridge on 21 November.

1990: As the 20th century came to a close, the bridge’s twin towers were strengthened to cope with the increased weight of traffic now using the bridge. Since 1964 the maximum weight of goods vehicles had doubled from 22 to 44 tonnes. In 1990 the towers’ cross-bracing was strengthened and in 1998 a project to strengthen the tower legs to take the increased weight of vehicles was completed.
1993: In total, it cost £19.5 million to construct the Forth Road Bridge and its approach roads, of which £14.35 million was borrowed from central government. By December 1993, the monies collected in the bridge tolls since 1964 had repaid this debt. From this date on, toll revenue was invested in the maintenance, operation and improvement of the bridge.
1996: At the time the bridge was built, the risk of ships colliding with the structure had not been addressed. To remedy this concern, significant improvement work began in 1996 to construct defences around the base of each of the crossing’s twin towers. Completing the work was not entirely straightforward, however – the breeding patterns of a colony of rare roseate terns nesting on the nearby Long Craig Rock restricted when work could be carried out.
1997: One way tolling was introduced in an attempt to improve southbound traffic flow.
1998: Work to replace the bridge’s hanger ropes began, following the discovery of fraying on one of the ropes on the west cable. Each new hanger comprises a pair of ropes, each with its own single socket. This updated socket design is an improvement on the original, as it allows for just one rope of the pair to be replaced as required. The project was completed in 2000.
2001: In recognition of the feat of engineering that it represents, the Forth Road Bridge was designated a Category A listed structure in March 2001.
2002: Responsibility for operating and maintaining the bridge was transferred to the newly-created Forth Estuary Transport Authority (FETA), replacing the Forth Road Bridge Joint Board (FRBJB). Unlike its predecessor, FETA was given the power to invest in transport and infrastructure projects beyond the bridge itself.
2004: The Forth Road Bridge became the first suspension bridge in Europe to have its main cable opened up to check for signs of corrosion. The bridge authority was surprised to discover that 8-10% of the cable’s strength had been lost because of corrosion. Work to prevent further strength loss and reduce the possibility of future traffic restrictions began immediately.
2007: In December, the Scottish Government made public its plans to construct a new 21st century Forth road crossing alongside the existing bridge. The Forth Replacement Crossing project will protect an essential link in Scotland's road network for future generations. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2011, with the opening of the new bridge planned for 2016.
2008: Following a change of administration at Holyrood, plans were put in place to scrap all remaining bridge tolls in Scotland. The Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Act was passed on 31 May 2007 and the Forth and Tay Road Bridges became free to use on 11 February 2008. The removal of the toll plaza on the Forth Road Bridge was a major project successfully completed by the bridge authority in a very short space of time.

Both bridges are now directly funded by the Scottish Government.
2009: The main cable dehumidification system was fully commissioned in October 2009. The system is now blowing very dry air through both main cables in a bid to reduce the relative humidity inside to a level where corrosion cannot occur. The effectiveness of the system will be assessed when the cable is opened up again in 2012 for a full inspection.

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