When I was a blue badge Scottish tour guide one of the pleasures of the job was watching overseas visitors see Scotland for the first time. The Forth bridges always got a tremendous response. On more than one occasion, approaching from the north over the road bridge, a coachload of enthusiastic Germans burst into a spontaneous round of applause when the railway bridge came into view over on the left. Gewaltig, they always said. Herrlich. Erstaunlich. Powerful. Magnificent. Amazing.
Now we have three powerful, magnificent and amazing bridges crossing the Forth side by side. They are triumphs of vision, design, engineering, planning and sheer hard graft. The building of the Queensferry Crossing has been an international effort, both in terms of the nationalities of the workers and the companies involved. Contractors building the bridge deck are part of a consortium made up of engineering firms from the UK, the USA, Spain and Germany.
According to a Transport Scotland spokesman, on average 1,300 people are busy on the project at any one time and over 10,000 people have worked on the bridge since construction began in 2011. By completion, it’s estimated that 10 million man hours will have gone into the creation of the bridge. It’s hoped its life span will be more than 100 years. After all, the railway bridge, the Grand Old Lady of the Forth, is still standing proud at over 125 years.
By all measures, the Queensferry Crossing is something special. Described as 'globally unique', it breaks various records. It’s the longest three-tower, cable-stayed bridge in the world. It has the highest towers of any bridge in Britain. Its innovative design and structure is intended to make it less sensitive to high winds and less likely to have to be closed to traffic for that reason.
Over the last five years, as we’ve journeyed across the existing road or rail bridge, many of us have taken great pleasure and pride in seeing this elegant new companion to those two structures take shape. We do not forget that one man died as the result of an incident onsite. As a mark of respect to John Cousins, work on the new bridge stopped for three days.
Lots of people have expressed their appreciation of the Queensferry Crossing online, posting photographs showing the progress of the build, the gradual closing of the gap in the middle, the sun catching the spider’s web of support wires, rainbows and the night sky over bridge and river. Yet in some sections of the media, reports have been grudging and carping.
On Friday 3 February, the gap in the middle was closed and the bridge truly became a bridge. Way up there, a modest yet quietly proud celebration was held. A small crowd of workers gathered and gave a cheer. One man interviewed said that the whole country could be proud of the achievement.
That evening BBC Reporting Scotland chose to show this report a long way down from the top of the news and felt the need to remind us the bridge was coming in late, due to open in May this year rather than December of last year. I’d like to see some of the nay-sayers working up there in a high wind: or even a stiff breeze.
The next day, the Press and Journal put a small photo of the bridge on page 23. The Times did much the same, with a striking but also rather small photo of the bridge as the last section was lifted into place, with a rainbow blessing the endeavour. A few days later, the Daily Record chose to start a business article on the construction industry in Scotland with the statement that the 'completion of the Queensferry Crossing and other major projects is expected to lead to a dip in Scotland’s construction sector in the next five years'. Well, yes, probably, but isn’t this taking the art of stealing defeat from the jaws of victory a bit far?
Of the several papers I read over the weekend after the final section was lifted in, only Scotland on Sunday really celebrated the event, with a picture on the front page and an excellent article by Alastair Dalton, 'The View from the Bridge'. I learned from this that the food of choice at breaks is often pizza. Easy to eat, they’re delivered by crane 40 or so at a time. Apparently they’re still warm when they get up there.
A wise woman once advised me not to attribute to malice what might merely be the result of incompetence. However, researching for this article, I noticed quite a difference in what newspapers put online about the bridge compared to what they put in their print editions. What you’ll find if you go looking can be quite different to what is served up to you if you don’t.
There’s politics in here, of course. Opponents of the SNP Scottish government accused it of wanting a new bridge across the Forth as a vanity project. Those with a pathological hatred of the SNP cannot thole hearing anything good about them. To those of us outside Scotland’s media and political bubble, this can be an unedifying spectacle.
Of course it’s the job of the media and opposition politicians to hold governments to account. Of course such a huge and expensive project must be properly scrutinised, whether about cost, safety, pay and conditions or anything else. Surely, though, there’s a time for the celebration of human endeavour and to be proud that Scotland now has three wonderful bridges spanning the Forth. A round of applause from all of us would seem to be in order.