And finally… Tay Road Bridge is 50 years old today

Tay Road BridgeToday marks the 50th anniversary of the official opening of the Tay Road Bridge.

Opened by the Queen Mother in front of a packed crowd on this day in 1966, the crossing connected the city of jute, jam and journalism to the Kingdom of Fife.

Back then it was estimated that about 5,000 vehicles would cross per day. That figure would later rise to 10,000. Today the number is nearly three times that.

This weekend will see special celebrations and events to mark the milestone. A foghorn will sound at 12.30pm, the exact time the Queen Mother crossed the bridge, while a host of events will take place in Slessor Gardens on Sunday, along with local events in Tayport and Newport.

There will also be a commemoration to pay respect to those who lost their lives building the structure as well as those who have worked and continue to work on the bridge.

Below, STV looks at the 50-year history of the bridge and the other important numbers that define it.

The Tay Road Bridge in February 1965
The Tay Road Bridge in February 1965

The foundations

A road bridge was in consideration to cross the River Tay for a number of years from the 1950s, more than 70 years after the completion of the second Tay Rail Bridge, with a road bridge being built further along from where either of the rail connections had been installed.

May 20, 1957: Minister for the Scottish Office, Lord Strathclyde (Thomas Galbraith), held a meeting with the Secretary of State for Scotland (John Maclay) agreeing “that the technical, financial, and economic implications of the Tay Bridge Scheme should be examined”.

May 13, 1958: This discussion becomes public in a meeting between Lord Strathclyde and the Earl of Dundee, however, there were concerns over the census and could not provide a concrete date about when such a provision would take place.

March 1963: Construction of the bridge began following designs from English-born William Fairhurst who, as well as being an International Chess Master, would later design the Kingston Bridge over Glasgow and be awarded a CBE for his services to engineering.

The West Graving, King William and Earl Grey docks were blocked and the Royal Arch was demolished despite being a lauded local landmark where Queen Victoria arrived on a visit.

(There is also currently a campaign to rebuild the arch as part of the new Dundee Waterfront project.)

Progress on the bridge from April 1965
Progress on the bridge from April 1965

The build

After three years of building it finally opened on August 18, 1966, and at the time was one of the longest road bridges in Europe.

  • 4 mile-long (2250 metres)
  • 42 spans, average of 55m in height
  • Tallest at the four navigation channels (76.3m, 38m above sea level)
  • Shortest at Dundee end (24.4m, 9.7m above sea level)
  • In 2002 it was decided the bridge needed a new slogan and a competition was run by Tay FM. Because of the crossing’s angle where it was taller in Fife, the entry with the most votes was “It’s all downhill to Dundee”.

    The idea for a slogan was then quickly shelved.

    According to the Tay Road Bridge website there have been five major projects undertaken on the bridge to ensure its maintenance.

    2002/03: “Strengthening to internal ring beam stiffeners to increase bridge carrying capacity to 44 tonnes” - allowing heavier vehicles to cross it, at a cost of £3.8m.

    2005/08: “Replacement of fixed/sliding bearings to columns and Dundee Abutment, internal strengthening and modification of internal diaphragms” - which cost a whopping £21.7m, more than five times the amount the bridge cost to build 40 years previous.

    2008/09: “Replacement of existing lighting columns with galvanised/painted steel columns” -giving better light for any foot passengers as well as vehicles, at a cost of £245,000.

    2009/10: “Replacement of sliding bearings at south end of bridge and associated works to Fife Abutment” - and much cheaper than the other bearings replacements, at a cost of £750,000.

    The tolls

    March 31, 2006: Tolls were scrapped on the Erskine Bridge but remain on the Tay and Forth bridges.

    May 31, 2007: MSPs vote to scrap tolls on the remaining two bridges and £15m in capital debt remaining for the Tay Bridge was taken on by the Scottish Executive in a one-off payment.

    February 11, 2008: The tolls were officially abolished with funding for the Tay Bridge now provided by the Scottish Government.

    December 17, 2008: It emerges that traffic on the Tay Road Bridge has actually increased since the abolition of the tolls. Between March and October 4.28 per cent more vehicles crossed the bridge into Fife from Dundee than in the same period in 2007.

    For more information, visit the Tay Road Bridge website.

    (Images supplied courtesy of the Tay Road Bridge Joint Board and Hawkeye Aerial Photography)

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