Councillors on Fife Council’s policy and co-ordination committee will be asked next week to approve the project’s business case so construction work can be done before the Levenmouth Rail Link - which will run under the bridge - is restored in December 2023.
However, the complexity of the works needed on the so-called Bawbee Bridge means the total cost is now estimated at just under £8.2 million - much more than the £2.5 million initially set aside for the bridge replacement in the local authority’s capital plan.
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A report to councillors has also warned that failure to finish the bridge works before the rail link is up and running would see the council incur construction costs of more than £13 million - simply because of the constraints and complications arising from delivering bridge replacement works over a live railway line.
With time of the essence, committee members will be asked to approve the £8.2 million option which will also see a temporary diversion road and bridge link created across the River Leven to minimise disruption throughout the duration of the proposed 47-week bridge building project.
In his report to next week’s committee, Ken Gourlay, head of assets, transportation and environment, highlighted the background and the challenges currently being faced.
“The Leven Rail Link and associated programmes will bring some £100m of investment to the Levenmouth area which is a key regeneration focus for the Council,” he explained.
“The level of work now required to deliver the Levenmouth Rail Bridge replacement works is more than the original deck replacement scheme.
“This has resulted in the cost of the bridge replacement works being expected to cost £5.711m more than budgeted.
“Various options have been explored to fund the shortfall and it is proposed that other funding options are progressed through Sustrans and the Levelling Up Fund.
“An assessment will be made as part of the upcoming capital plan review looking at what will be affordable across the plan going forward.”
The replacement, which has been years in the pipeline, is needed because the existing bridge is in a deteriorating condition and the 18-tonne weight limit currently in place limits the economic vitality and accessibility within the area.
However, the restoration of passenger train services to Leven by the end of 2023 has effectively forced the council’s hand and hastened the need for the replacement to be finished alongside the rail link.
Councillors will hear next week that the level of work now required to deliver the bridge replacement project is in excess of the original deck replacement scheme proposed in 2006 - and therefore the cost has gone up.
Extended works include the design and installation of new bridge abutments, while new higher parapets are required because of the live electrified rail line.
An initial funding bid seeking £6.3 million from the Levelling Up Fund is therefore being pursued, but other funding sources are also being tapped.
Various options have been put forward and may yet be selected by councillors, ranging from doing nothing to pursuing a cheaper alternative which would cost over £6.2 million but would mean there would be no direct temporary road link between Methil and Leven across the River Leven to maintain two-way traffic and lengthy diversions required.
Officials say, however, their preferred “most viable cost-effective” method of delivering the new rail bridge whilst also maintaining direct road access between Methil and Leven during the 47-week contract works is the £8.2 million option.
News of the project cost increase has not gone down well with local campaigners.
Eugene Clarke, member of the Levenmouth Rail Campaign, said people would be “horrified” at the sums being bandied around - and indeed the potential for further delays.
“It is of particular concern that the need for this work has been known for decades yet it is only now that the proposal is being put for approval before Fife Council,” he commented.
“The rail line was described by Fife Council co-leaders as the “top priority” transport development for Fife so it is beyond belief that the council’s enterprise and environment directorate did not anticipate the impact of its arrival and electrification on bridge repairs.
“LMRC have two specific concerns: one is that the additional £5.5 million required is quietly removed from the Levenmouth Reconnected Fund thus invalidating the purpose of the fund which was to focus on the regeneration of our community to take maximum benefit from the line.
“The second is that this necessary work could lead to delays to the promised opening date of December 2023. The apparent time scale of 58 weeks from now leaves little room for error.”
Mr Clarke said the group was aware the work is “vital” and said it hopes the council will make “every effort” to complete the project on time.
But he concluded: “If it doesn’t it will raise serious questions about the council’s ability to manage transport projects."