Tay Road Bridge managers invited transport reporter Scott Milne to view the bridge inside and out to celebrate the ‘marvel of engineering’s’ 55th anniversary.
The Tay doesn’t quite have the rough, choppy waves of the North Sea, but a trip on the water to get a unique view of the Tay Road Bridge still left me feeling like I’d been in the gym.
Bridge bosses had offered me a tour to mark the iconic structure’s 55th anniversary.
The Queen Mother opened the link over the River Tay between Dundee and Fife on August 18, 1966.
Dundee Lord Provost Ian Borthwick is leading birthday celebrations and is expected to thanking bridge workers for their efforts during the Covid-19 crisis.
Deputy bridge manager David Robertson and bridge inspector Matt Lannen showed me the bridge like I’d never seen it before – from the guts of the box girders beneath the road surface to the view from the river.
Into the ‘guts’…
First stop, after introductions and cups of tea, were the box girders.
For the uninitiated — like me — a box girder is essentially a tunnel that runs underneath the road.
Barring a few touched-up spots, the grey paint is the original coat from the 1960s. Granted, not many people go down there, but it’s still in good nick all the same.
The box girders contain 16,500 miles of welding in total.
“It really is a marvel of engineering,” David said.
“The planning that went into this bridge all of those decades ago to make it future-proof is really impressive.”
‘A strange thrill’
The box girder corridor is like something out of an Alien film.
Thankfully, my imagination didn’t get the better of me and my biggest worry was the height as opposed to Xenomorph space monsters.
The corridor itself is enclosed, but the ladders and access ways let you see just how high up you are.
Vertigo aside, it really is an impressive sight. And the sound of cars and HGVs passing overhead is a strange thrill.
The box girder corridors continue for as far as the eye can see. A “wow” left my lips as I first stepped inside.
“You take it a bit for granted if you come here often for work,” Matt said. “But it really is quite impressive.”
To access the box girders, the road heading towards Fife was closed momentarily so we could be driven to an access panel on the footpath.
To anyone who was in a rush to get to the Kingdom on Wednesday afternoon last week, sorry.
But having the road closed on one’s behalf makes one feel like royalty. It’s something I could get used to.
After that, it was back to the office to swap hard hats for life jackets.
It may have been a wet and windy day, but we weren’t going to let that stop us getting on the boat to see the bridge from the river.
One thing I have never really appreciated is just how much of an incline there is as the bridge heads towards Fife.
The bridge is about four times higher at the Fife end, I am told.
I am sure many people do not realise just how incredible the bridge is.”
Lynne Short, Tay Road Bridge joint board chairwoman
As someone whose experience with the bridge was exclusively driving over it, that fact passed me by. Cyclists and pedestrians will have surely noticed though.
But from the water and a bit further away, the height difference really is stark.
We stopped off for pics at a pillar base. Crab shells tell us seagulls are no strangers to using the bridge infrastructure.
But to see something you are so familiar with, and is part of the fabric of life to many people in Tayside and Fife, from a different perspective is a wonderful experience.
It made me appreciate more the work that went into its design and creation in a way that simply driving over it can not.
Five alternatives – including an underwater tunnel – were considered for the road crossing in 1955 before agreement was reached for a bridge from Dundee to Newport.
And to see Dundee, and the always impressive V&A, from a different angle also shows how unique and impressive a city it is. Buildings I am familiar with along the waterfront took on a whole new life.
‘Privilege’ to see Tay Road Bridge during anniversary celebrations
We were joined by Dundee councillor Lynne Short, who is also chairwoman of the Tay Road Bridge joint board.
She was “hugely delighted” to “shine a light on the engineering marvel” for the Tay Road Bridge anniversary.
“We often take many things in life for granted and I am sure many people do not realise just how incredible the bridge is and just how life was before it came along 55 years ago,” she said.
“To have the privilege to see inside the workings of the bridge and to experience it from the river was very special.”
Bright future for Tay Road Bridge
The board management are not resting on their laurels, with a number of improvements on the horizon.
Aside from the artwork being carried out on the pillars on the Dundee side, the inspection gantries will be replaced.
After that, the carriageway and expansion joints will also be improved or replaced in the next few years.
These all represent multi-million pounds worth of capital works.
The website has also been recently overhauled.
“We want the bridge to be part of the waterfront development, not just something that’s next to it,” David said.