Forth Road Bridge reopening ahead of schedule after interim repairs completed
The Forth Road Bridge is to reopen on Wednesday after interim repairs were completed ahead of schedule.
It will be open from 6am to all vehicles except HGVs, which are not expected to be given access until mid-February.
It was previously announced the bridge, which links Edinburgh to Fife, would be closed until the new year.
Scotland's transport minister Derek Mackay said: "I am pleased that we are now able to reopen the bridge to 90% of traffic, well ahead of schedule.
"Following rigorous testing and inspection of the temporary repair, experts have recommended the bridge is now ready to open to all traffic except HGVs."
Ministers were forced to close the 51-year-old bridge to all traffic on December 4 after a crack was found in a truss end link during a routine inspection.
A steel splint has been put in to repair the damaged part, with similar splints to be installed at the other seven truss end links as a precautionary measure - work which can be done safely while the bridge is open.
Load testing of the bridge following the interim repair work showed it can now be safely opened to all vehicles except HGVs.
They will not be allowed back onto the bridge until the permanent repair work is in place.
This is expected to take about six weeks to complete, depending on weather conditions and no further defects being found.
Ministers said they will discuss with hauliers the operational support that can be offered to them during the period when they cannot access the bridge.
Officials said a full inspection of the bridge was 90% complete "with no material defects detected". Remaining inspections will continue until early January and can be safely completed while it is open.
The bridge is used by an estimated 70,000 vehicles a day, with its closure causing significant disruption to commuters and businesses.
Mr Mackay said: " With the temporary solution now in place, the remaining work to install the long-term repair can safely proceed without the need for a full closure. The repairs will be carried out with overnight lane restrictions on the bridge.
"For the complex and detailed interim repair to have been completed in this timeframe is a tribute to the highly-skilled and dedicated staff who have worked 24/7 since December 3.
"Since the closure was put in place, weather conditions have been mainly favourable and the team have been able to complete the repair work in good time.
"This has been an unprecedented challenge. We can't lose sight of the fact that many people have been inconvenienced by the closure."
Mr Mackay said ministers understand there will be "considerable disappointment" the bridge remains closed to HGVs.
"While HGVs account for 9% of overall traffic on the bridge, they represent 32% of the weight the bridge carries. We therefore have no choice but to accept the recommendation of the engineers."
Chartered engineer Mark Arndt, of bridge operator Amey, said: "Public safety has been at the heart of everything we've been doing and work will be progressing over the coming weeks on the additional strengthening works required to enable HGVs to start safely using the bridge."
Superintendent Fraser Candlish, of Police Scotland's road policing unit, said: " Officers will be on patrol on both sides of the Forth, maintaining a visible presence and stopping heavy goods vehicles on the approach. There will also be enforcement through static and mobile cameras."
MSPs on Holyrood's Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee have already agreed to hold an inquiry to look at the structural defects that led to the closure of the crossing.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "The reopening of the bridge is the Christmas present Scotland needed and we must thank the engineers, who worked so hard in the driving wind and pouring rain to reopen it ahead of schedule.
"But we must remember that the inquiry due to take place needs to dig deep and uncover why we got to this situation in the first place."
The Road Haulage Association (RHA) said the continued closure to HGVs would have "a massive impact" on hauliers based in or making regular journeys to Scotland, predicting it will cost them more than £40 million.
Chief executive Richard Burnett said: "The major distribution centres on the northern, Fife-side of the river are totally reliant on an efficient, swift transport system and we have had many reports from members who are already struggling to keep to their pre-Christmas delivery schedules.
"The news that they will continue to face delays and a massive increase in cost for another eight weeks will, for many, prove to be unsustainable."
RHA estimates that the extra fuel needed for detours would add £30 to fuel costs, and with 10,500 HGVs using the bridge everyday, this adds up to more than £600,000 per day.
"If hauliers have to wait until the end of February to resume a normal service, we can confidently predict that the cost will be in excess of £40 million," said Mr Burnett.
Scottish Labour's Jackie Baillie said: "It now falls to the SNP government to outline what compensation will be available to businesses who lost out as a result of this essential piece of infrastructure being shut down at a crucial time for the Scottish economy."