The Freight Transport Association (FTA) says the closure – since 4 December – has had a “devastating effect” and the Road Haulage Association (RHA) reckons it has cost hauliers around £37 million.
One FTA member says costs to his business could total £250,000 if the crossing remains closed for an additional four weeks.
The bridge has been undergoing strengthening work since 3 December and reopened to cars and buses just before Christmas. Last night (4 February), a phased reopening began to HGVs from 11pm to 4am, but only on the northbound side and at a rate of one every 30 seconds.
Chris MacRae, FTA’s head of policy for Scotland, says: “Partial reopening of the bridge is better than none at all, but there will be planning and cost implications for operators of this second movement of reopening date.
“We need the bridge open to all traffic as soon as possible. The European Commission’s extension to the relaxation of drivers’ hours ends on 15 February so we’ll be calling for a further extension to help logistics operators cope with the 50-mile detour.”
McRae adds that the FTA will be seeking recompense for its members from the government.
It’s a point echoed by RHA chief executive Richard Burnett, who says: “Since the closure of this vital crossing on 4 December 2015, the financial impact on the thousands of hauliers who are either based in, or making regular journeys to Scotland has been massive.
“The Scottish government must find the funds to compensate those operators who, through no fault of their own, have found themselves out of pocket for several months. We understand the reason for the trials but remain concerned that only a limited number of HGVs will be able to cross and for a very short time period.”
Scottish transport minister Derek Mackay says: “This is a phased reintroduction of HGVs to the Forth Road Bridge which aims to provide access to the bridge at the earliest available opportunity. Allowing limited access to the bridge when traffic is lighter will hopefully provide some relief to local hauliers while repair work continues.
He adds that around 600 HGVs will be able to cross the bridge each night, which he describes as “a step in the right direction”.