The main construction package for Scotland’s biggest infrastructure project, the £2 billion Forth replacement crossing, will go out to tender later this month.
The project – which has been plagued by controversy over proposals for its funding and a decision to dramatically reduce its size – is expected to attract huge attention from the country’s biggest contractors.
While a row has been ongoing between Westminster and the Scottish Government over funding, it is hoped a decision on where the cash will come from will be made soon after a key report into Scotland’s borrowing powers is published next week.
There has been increased pressure on the government to make progress on the scheme, with the existing Forth Road Bridge suffering premature decay – primarily from overuse – and costing Holyrood tens of millions of pounds in maintenance each year.
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said: “The tender process for the construction is planned to commence with the publication of a contract notice in the Official Journal of the European Union in June.
“The contract is expected to be awarded in early 2011 with construction commencing later that year.”
The scheme is scheduled to be completed, and open, in 2016.
Big name contractors including Balfour Beatty, Morgan Est, Laing O’Rourke and Vinci Construction Grands Projets are all likely to bid.
The new bridge will be located to the west of the existing Forth Road Bridge.
An Arup/Jacobs joint venture has spent the past year working on detailed designs for the bridge, in what is understood to be the largest transport consultancy contract let in Scotland.
This week leading business group Scottish Chambers of Commerce called for the government to revert back to its original plans for a wider bridge with light rail potential.
Plans for the scheme were dramatically altered late last year, reducing the potential spend on the project from more than £4 billion to between £1.72 billion and £2.34 billion.
Under plans, the existing Forth Bridge will be made a dedicated public transport-only corridor, meaning the new crossing can be built much narrower than first planned.
The original plan included the 2.7km twin-span cable stay bridge with 600m main spans, two lanes in each direction, a cycleway and an additional lane – potentially for future light rail use.
The cut-price bridge over the River Forth was one of 12 major projects to be singled out for special planning treatment by the Scottish government.
The list of schemes – which also includes the 2014 Commonwealth Games facilities – were officially deemed to be “in the national interest” under new planning legislation.
It is expected an announcement on potential new borrowing powers for the Scottish government will be announced next week by the Calman Commission, which was established to review Scotland’s devolution.
Finance secretary John Swinney wrote to Sir Kenneth Calman, chair of the commission, in March to request extended borrowing powers for Scotland.
Although the bridge has almost unanimous support from MSPs, proposals for its funding have proved controversial.
In January, Mr Swinney revealed the Government would u-turn on its plans to build the scheme through the Scottish Futures Trust and instead tender it using traditional public procurement.
The Civil Engineering Contractors Association has raised concerns that, if the bridge has to be funded by the Scottish government, “Transport Scotland will find itself unable to do much else during the forecast…years of the bridge’s construction”.
Just last month Liberal MP for Dunfermline & Fife West, Willie Rennie, told Westminster : “Despite the need to start building the bridge in 2011, there remains considerable uncertainty about the funding package. I simply do not buy the assurances of the Scottish Government that they have the funding in place.
Answering demands as to why the UK Government has not agreed to help fund the scheme, Treasury secretary Angela Eagle said: “The Forth bridge is a devolved project, so its funding, as I think those listening to the debate will have worked out by now, is also a devolved matter.
“The Government has taken steps to support the Scottish Executive in proceeding with the second crossing, but, because the Government recognise that this is a devolved issue, it is for the Scottish Executive to decide whether the new bridge is necessary, which designs they should follow and how to fund it.“