Forth Road Bridge closure: Replacement work 'considered' five years ago
Forth Road Bridge bosses had considered replacing the part of the crossing which has cracked five years ago but decided not to, Scotland's transport minister has said.
Derek Mackay said the bridge operators had looked at the "replacement of that area and much more" in 2010.
But he said it would have resulted in the bridge being closed for longer.
Opposition parties have called for an inquiry into issues surrounding the crossing's closure to all traffic.
It was announced on Thursday night that the bridge, which carries an estimated 70,000 vehicles a day between Edinburgh and Fife, would be closed after engineers spotted a crack in a steel truss close to the north tower.
It was later confirmed the crossing would have to remain shut until the new year for repair work to take place.
- Calls for Forth Road Bridge inquiry
- Bridge engineers show true grit
- Why is the Forth Road Bridge closed?
Mr Mackay insisted the Scottish government - which took over responsibility for the bridge after the Forth Estuary Transport Authority (Feta) was dissolved - had been "transparent about the issues as they have emerged".
He told the BBC's Good Morning Scotland programme that the fault in the bridge that has led to its closure was believed to have only occurred "in the last few weeks".
And he said Feta had been looking at carrying out wider work in 2010, which would have seen the section that has now cracked being replaced as part of a larger re-design, but had "re-scoped" the project after receiving advice from engineers.
He added: "A much bigger job beyond what they felt was proportionate at the time would have led to a much longer closure to carry out those more extensive works.
"But the advice they seem to have had at the time was that carrying out the strengthening works as identified would remedy what they identified as the problem, not the location of this specific fault that is unrelated to those works."
Mr Mackay pointed out the bridge was "over 51 years old, it's been carrying more than it was designed for by way of traffic and weight".
He insisted: "This problem was not predicted at the fault where it is cracked, but we are remedying it, we are fixing it and we will get the bridge reopened as quickly as possible."
He also stressed there had been been "ongoing investment" in the bridge, with maintenance plans carried over when responsibility for the structure switched from Feta to the Scottish government.
Mr Mackay said the priority now "has to be to ensure that the engineers with all the expertise on that bridge are working on that bridge 24/7 to get it sorted as quickly as possible."
He made the comments as the Scottish government faced calls from Labour and the Conservatives to hold an inquiry into issues surrounding the bridge closure.
Scottish Labour's deputy leader Alex Rowley said: "Derek McKay's extraordinary comments confirm exactly why we need a full parliamentary inquiry into what has gone wrong with the bridge.
"For an SNP Minister to admit that cancelled repair works would have replaced the damaged section of the bridge as far back as 2010 raises many more questions about the actions of the government.
"In recent days Nicola Sturgeon dismissed suggestions that cancelled repair works were linked to the bridge closure, but now Derek Mackay is saying something different."
Extra trains between Fife and Edinburgh have been laid on and 11,000 extra bus seats have been made available in a bid to ease traffic congestion around diversions via the Kincardine and Clackmannanshire bridges.
The leader of Fife Council, David Ross, has urged commuters to make greater use of buses to beat the congestion while the Forth Road Bridge is closed.
"While we understand that not everyone on the roads is commuting to Edinburgh, congestion could be considerably eased if everyone who was able to, switched to a bus," he said.