Motorists suffered hours of frustration this week as the Skye Bridge was closed for the second time in less than a month, prompting concerns that the trunk road contractor had changed their policy on severe weather restrictions.
At 4.04am on Tuesday morning Bear Scotland closed the bridge to all vehicles as the tail-end of Hurricane Gonzalo hit the west coast of Scotland. The crossing opened again an hour later but was closed at 8.54am for several hours.
A couple on their way to a medical appointment in Inverness were at the head of the long queue, waiting to cross. They criticised the lack of information from both Police Scotland and the contractor.
“To the best of my knowledge, before these recent incidents, the Skye Bridge was rarely closed — the last major closure, a response to extreme storm-force winds, was more than 10 years ago,” the man said. “The conditions that prevailed on the two recent closures were not unusual for Skye and certainly far less severe than weather last winter when hurricane-force winds hit the island. The bridge remained open at that time.
“My wife, the patient, was invited ‘to walk over the bridge’. Indeed, pedestrians were not restricted and more than 20 persons walked over the bridge whilst we waited. The policeman on location made it clear that there was no possibility of being escorted over the bridge during lulls in the weather.
“When I asked about contingencies in the event of a major emergency, the policeman informed me that there were no contingencies, and any incidents would be dealt with ‘on their merits’. Ambulances would not be allowed on the bridge and conditions precluded a helicopter or ferry.”
The couple, who kept in touch with Raigmore Hospital while waiting in the queue, missed their appointment and returned home.
One haulier who was going to Oban to pick up livestock for a sale said he would sleep in the back of his truck if the bridge stayed closed. The crossing opened to cars at 2.44pm, while high-sided vehicles were kept waiting until almost 9.30 that evening. Between 3.52pm and 5.32pm the bridge opened and closed twice.
“At this rate, the bridge will be closed every week in the winter,” said the haulier. “Something clearly has changed if they have started to do this.”
A couple from Staffin were on their way to Alness to babysit their granddaughter. At about 1.45pm the driver said: “We should have been there four hours ago. I have seen the bridge open in far worse conditions than this, when the wind is lashing and the spray is flying over the cars at Kyleakin.”
A delivery driver from Fort William, who was stuck on the Skye side, said he crosses the bridge several times each week and has been doing this for three years.
“If they close the bridge will they not have to close other stretches of the road on Skye as well, such as in Staffin and at Sligachan where you get terrible crosswinds? There must be a new policy from Bear Scotland.”
For the second time in a month, the contractor denied that the policy had changed. They also said that, as with the previous closure on 6th October, a gust of 110mph was recorded around 9am.
A Bear Scotland spokesperson said: “High winds on the Skye Bridge are recurring events which can have a considerable effect on the local and wider community and trunk road users. The wind management plan is in place to keep road users and the wider public safe. These plans also prevent the possibility of more prolonged disruption from high-sided vehicles being blown over.
“With winds gusting to 110mph yesterday on the Skye Bridge pre-planned restrictions were implemented by Bear Scotland and Police Scotland for public safety. With specialist meteorological advice the bridge was reopened as soon as the winds dropped to consistently safe.
“Bear Scotland is required to review the Skye Bridge wind management plan after all incidents and will be undertaking this with operational partners in the coming days to ensure the ongoing safe and efficient management of the bridge.”
According to the police present at the scene the latest closure was nothing to do with them.