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Far north MSP gets assurance from transport minister on A9 improvements


By Alan Hendry

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The narrow bridge at Culgower has been described as 'an extreme hazard'.
The narrow bridge at Culgower has been described as 'an extreme hazard'.

Maree Todd has been assured that "substantial investment and resources" are going towards safety improvements on the northern A9.

Scotland's transport minister Fiona Hyslop has told the MSP that Transport Scotland is "fully committed" to the ongoing maintenance and safe operation of the trunk road beyond Inverness.

Ms Todd wrote to Ms Hyslop on October 13 after an approach by senior councillors in the far north who fear there is a "real risk" that parts of the road could be lost if Caithness and Sutherland experience flooding on the scale seen in some parts of the Highlands.

In her reply, dated November 14, Ms Hyslop highlighted several road safety improvements being progressed in the north Highlands. She also said the A9 at Scrabster is among a number of sites being assessed "with the aim of providing drainage improvements and slope stabilisation measures to ensure our trunk road assets are fit for climate change".

Ms Hyslop pointed out that the trunk road operating company Bear Scotland has "a targeted maintenance and improvement programme" for the A9 north of Inverness. Schemes programmed for 2023/24 include resurfacing, road drainage, signage and lay-by improvements, better footways, road markings and lighting, verge improvements and the introduction of speed limit reduction zones.

"The estimated value of all maintenance and improvement works in the current financial year on the A9 exceeds £5.7 million," she wrote. "I trust this shows that Transport Scotland is fully committed to the ongoing maintenance and safe operation of the A9 north of Inverness."

Ms Todd, the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, welcomed Ms Hyslop's response.

She said: “As outlined by the transport minister, substantial investment and resources are being directed towards enhancing road safety on the A9 north of Inverness.

“In my constituency, this includes improvements at Georgemas junction, upgrades to lighting and junction layout at Skiach and the redesign of the A9/A836 junction at Thurso.

“Given the recent severe weather conditions, it’s reassuring to learn of the Scottish Government’s work aimed at mitigating the risk of landslips, ensuring the trunk road’s resilience against the impacts of climate change.

“These improvements will help prevent closures and the associated disruption to my constituents and local businesses.

“I’m grateful for the minister’s assurance that road safety on the A9 north of Inverness remains a priority for the Scottish Government. This is well reflected in the ongoing improvement works and the continuous review of safety on the trunk road.”

On October 10, Matthew Reiss, the independent councillor for Thurso and Northwest Caithness, sent an open letter to Ms Todd on behalf of Richard Gale and Ron Gunn, who chair the Sutherland and Caithness area committees respectively.

Councillor Reiss warned that some parts of the A9 north of Dornoch are "unstable, poorly engineered" and have "inadequate maintenance".

He described the narrow bridge at Culgower as "an extreme hazard" and said landslides had occurred at Scrabster.

He urged the MSP to "take the lead in obtaining the relatively small sums involved to upgrade the worst sections by straightening bends, widening the carriageway and assessing the entire route for structural stability by modern safety standards".

Councillor Reiss added: "Should this road be closed long term, or even for a few days, the implications for the far north, Dounreay, Vulcan, Orkney and the spaceport are immense."


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