THE queue of traffic heading west along Princes Street stretches from South Charlotte Street to Hanover Street. Cars are bumper to bumper, each locked in a battle of wills to ensure not one iota of space becomes available which might just let the nose of another vehicle edge in front.
Even as traffic lights move from red to amber and green, nothing moves. Eventually, some just give up, illegally performing U-turns to head back along the bus-only carriageway in the opposite direction in a desperate bid to find another way home.
It sounds like rush hour on any evening, instead it’s 10pm on a Wednesday night. It’s a time when Edinburgh’s roads should be at their quietest, yet the little traffic that is trying to move through the city centre has become trapped in a web of orange-and-white-striped cones which have their source at the west end of Princes Street.
Like the tentacles of some supernatural beast from the deep, they spread along Lothian Road, round the junction of Princes Street with South Charlotte Street, into Charlotte Square and along Shandwick Place. Welcome to night gridlock.
And it’s not just a one-off. While the cones which spring up at night might be gone by morning, they’ll be back, and they will have bred.
You will find them in Haymarket Terrace, forcing what should be three lanes of smooth-flowing traffic - including the Greenways - in to one jam which stretches back to Western Corner.
Over in Morningside they’ve sprouted too, closing Chamberlain Road to traffic and creating perfect conditions for road rage. Indeed from Bruntsfield Place to Greenbank Crescent roads are coned off and lane restrictions are operating as "entry treatments" are carried out.
Dundas Street is also affected, as are Fountainbridge, York Place, Grove Street, Lauriston Place, West Port, Roseburn Street and of course Morrison Street. It’s not just the city centre of course, there are problems in Leith, Musselburgh, Dalkeith... the list seems endless.
But it does seem that getting around Edinburgh is more like a game of chance than ever before - and that’s without taking into account new one-way streets, bus-only roads and traffic-calming measures.
And now Edinburgh City Council has announced that the roads and pavement budget for the next financial year will rise by 3.8 million to 11.8m. Great news for the filling of the countless potholes which punctuate the city’s roads - and for pedestrians in Lothian Road and Morrison Street who will eventually be walking on 1m worth of Caithness stone - but it all signals a nightmarish time for drivers.
Some might say it’s the penalty we pay for being a prosperous city, but does an economic boom really need to mean the city should be choked by its own success?
Neil Greig, head of policy at the AA, believes Edinburgh is not reaping rewards, more paying the price of not investing in roads in the past.
"Yes, Edinburgh is a victim of its own success." he says. "As most roadworks are because of utilities such as telecom companies putting in lines because there are more companies opening up, but there is a more general problem in that for too long there has been too little investment in the city’s roads.
"We carried out a survey which showed that Edinburgh is the worst council in Scotland when it comes to spending what the Scottish Executive thinks it should be spending on roads.
"We also did a survey last April which showed that 65 per cent of drivers thought the roads were getting worse in Edinburgh, compared to 52 per cent in Glasgow.
"There is a general feeling that things are getting worse. Of course, the longer you leave things the worse they become, and then roadworks last longer and disrupt more people.
He adds: "Ironically though, people complain more about roadworks and the disruption they cause than they do about the state of the roads in the first place which prompt the roadworks."
The council has already disputed the AA’s claim that the council spent 9.1m less than recommended by the Scottish Executive on road repairs last year.
But, while most people would agree that repairs and resurfacing work does need to be done, it does seem that at this time of year in particular, there are more roadworks than roadworks-free roads.
Tory transport spokesman Councillor Allan Jackson, believes so much work is being carried out at the moment because it’s the end of the financial year.
"They have obviously found a bit of extra cash and suddenly road repairs are being carried out - even in my ward, which I was amazed about. So work is being rushed now to get the money spent, and of course it means that some parts of the city just can’t cope with having so many roads dug up at once.
"But basically, Edinburgh council has a major problem and really they only have themselves to blame for it. The former Lothian Regional Council eased up on the maintenance programme and since then the money that should have gone on roads has gone elsewhere. Of course, if someone handed us 150m, which is what we need to do everything required, then we still wouldn’t be able to get it all done because the city just couldn’t cope. The increase they’ve decided is just a drop in the ocean, but at the same time does mean there will inevitably be more roadworks.
"And while drivers might feel the brunt of all this work, it also makes a mockery of the council’s plans to get more people on to public transport because buses are waiting in the same queues as cars - and pavements are so bad people don’t want to walk anywhere."
He adds: "The utilities’ roadworks are another problem and can’t be blamed on the council. However, there is likely to be legislation in the future which will mean they can’t dig the roads up quite as readily as they seem to now."
In fact, last November, former transport minister Sarah Boyack launched a consultation exercise to establish the problem of traffic chaos caused by roadworks set up by utility companies and the economic costs involved. The consultation only closed on February 27 and, according to the Scottish Executive, "responses are still being analysed".
Taxi drivers are a breed that you would expect to complain about roadworks, traffic jams and tailbacks, yet they seem more than reasonable on the matter.
Alan Johnston, chairman of Central Radio Taxis, says most cabbies are only too glad to see roadworks - at least it means the roads are being repaired.
"Roadworks cause delays but drivers don’t mind too much because it means the condition of the roads should eventually improve," he says. "But there is a genuine concern among drivers about some roads - they seem to be in a hell of a state. They wonder if the potholes are being repaired properly because they seem to keep
"The West End resurfacing work is causing problems, but drivers accept it. They tell their passengers there will be delays and ask if they want them to try an alternative route. Most customers are fine."
Jimmy Muldoon, of City Cabs and chairman of the Scottish Taxi Federation, says: "I’ve never seen it so bad as it has been for the last two months. You can’t move anywhere without there being roadworks.
"It means the drivers have to take more circuitous routes and a lot of people don’t realise that they’re doing it to avoid sitting in traffic jams.
"But the roads have to be repaired. You would think Edinburgh was in a Third World country because of the state of them, but it does seem that they’re trying to do too much all at the same time.
"The one thing I wouldn’t criticise them too much for is doing some of the work at night - particularly at the West End - but they shouldn’t start it at 6pm which is in the middle of the rush hour, that’s just crazy and causes major tailbacks.
"It would also help if we were informed that roadworks, especially those that are going to last for months, are about to happen."
And so it seems there really is no end in sight to Edinburgh’s roadworks. Cllr Andrew Burns, executive member for transport on the Labour-run council, says that the increase in spending on roads for next year will mean more disruption.
But he says: "I don’t think there are overtly more roadworks this March than there were last March or the year before.
"As far as the utilities go, we have limited powers. But we are hopeful that the Scottish Executive will introduce the same system they have in England and Wales, where local authorities charge a daily lane-rental to the companies while they dig up the roads - which encourages them to get the job done quicker."
However, Cllr Burns says he would challenge the AA’s figures that the council underspends on roads. "In fact, we overspend - they have got their facts wrong.
"Last year, our budget for roads and pavements was 8m. We’ve increased that by 3.8m for next year and we’ve been given a further 1.3m from the Scottish Executive, so spending will have gone up by more than 50 per cent next year, and I don’t think that’s something to apologise for," he says.
"Obviously though, as a consequence of increased spending, there will be more road and footway maintenance in Edinburgh.
"And so, from next month, the public will see a lot more activity, which will have an impact on pedestrians and traffic. But I do think the vast majority of people will appreciate that."
Remember that next time you’re in a jam.
Lib Dems ‘bare-faced hypocrites’
LIBERAL Democrats were today accused of "bare-faced hypocrisy" over their attitude to road tolls and private finance for new schools.
Tory leader David McLetchie said Lib Dems in Edinburgh had boasted in a newsletter of their opposition to charging motorists for using the city’s roads and "privatisation" of the Capital’s schools, despite the party being part of the coalition government which had adopted the policies.
The newsletter, circulated in Edinburgh South, where the Lib Dems overtook the Tories for second place in last year’s general election, argues against public private partnerships for funding school refurbishment, calling for schools to be maintained on a "not for profit basis". And it says the party has "opposed Labour’s plans for road tolls in Edinburgh".
Mr McLetchie said: "It’s a classic attempt to have it both ways - a complete lack of consistency and coherence, fashioned quite deliberately and cynically to pull the wool over people’s eyes. How can they say they are against tolls when they vote through the law that gives councils the power to levy them?
"And it is bare-faced hypocrisy for the Lib Dems to stir up opposition to the PPP programme. I wish the real Liberal Democrats would stand up and tell us what they do believe."
Edinburgh Lib Dem Councillor Marilyne MacLaren, who fought Edinburgh South at the General Election, defended the party’s stance.
She said: "In this council, the Lib Dems have consistently opposed PPP. We don’t think it makes economic sense."
She claimed the party was "extremely wary" of PPP and desperately looking for other ways to find money.
But she admitted the Lib Dems in Edinburgh were split on the issue of road tolls.
Man is held on drugs charges
DRUGS with a street value of 15,000 were seized by police during a raid on a house in Leith, it was revealed today.
Five kilograms of cannabis resin and 800 diazepam were found in the flat in Lindsay Street.
Other drugs were also found hidden in the outhouse and garden beside the house.
The raid was carried out by officers of the Leith Crime Patrol initiative, which is aimed at tackling drug dealing in area.
Raymond Smart, 45, from Leith has appeared in court charged with possession and intent to supply cannabis and possession of other controlled drugs.
He was remanded in custody after appearing at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.