THE impact of the closure of the Forth Road Bridge is being felt all across Scotland. The removal of this crucial part of Scotland’s road network has a knock-on effect that spreads far beyond the east coast.
There is growing pressure on alternative routes thanks to the extra traffic generated by the roughly 60,000 daily journeys that can’t currently take place across the bridge, and there’s pressure like never before on the public transport system. Ministers urge commuters to take trains or buses while the Forth Road Bridge remains closed, but it is not at all clear that existing provision can meet demand. Frequent commuters will have noticed problems with our rail system long before the closure of the bridge.
Trains cancelled or sent out with too few carriages are daily facts of life that will surely mean many motorists will take their chances with diverted routes rather than use public transport.
At the same time, the new Borders railway – opened in a fanfare of publicity just weeks ago – is beset by problems, with punctuality issues now being blamed on the project being completed on the cheap.
But if public transport leaves much to be desired, so does the state of our road network.
The M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh is choked most days. It seems an extraordinary state of affairs that traffic on the major motorway in Scotland grinds to a halt at rush hours. And then there’s the ongoing and entirely unsatisfactory case of the A9, that pitifully inadequate – and dangerous – route to the north. Sections have been dualled but much of it remains single carriageway. It is little wonder that the A9 is the scene of so many accidents each year. While plans are in place for further dualling, this remains some time away.
And no look at Scotland’s transport system can ignore concerns that are frequently raised about the quality and frequency of internal flights. Scotland’s island communities, if they are to thrive, require dependable, frequent flights to the mainland but provision is currently down to the bare minimum. A service hanging on by a thread simply won’t do.
Scotland sits on the fringes of Europe, exposed to extreme weather and we need a reliable transport network that can cope with the volume of traffic and the elements. The Scottish economy is utterly dependent on the transport network holding up. The closure of the Forth Road Bridge is costing our economy a fortune. There is no immediate fix to this undesirable situation. The closure of the Forth Road Bridge is now a difficult fact of life and we have to hope that the repairs are carried out quickly.
The opening of the new Queensferry Crossing will, in time, help matters – but if this episode has made anything clear it is that successive Scottish governments have failed to keep up with the demands we make of our transport network. Years of complacency, of jobs half done, and projects abandoned, mean that Scotland’s transport infrastructure is far from robust.
If we are serious about growing our economy then it’s time for the government to act. We need solutions to the failure of the M8 to cope and for the dangers of the A9, we need bigger, more frequent trains, and we need a bus service that pays more than lip service to Scotland’s rural communities.
Transport minister Derek Mackay has had a rocky time as the face of the Scottish Government during the bridge closure. If he survives the pressure he is now under, then his priority is clear: Scotland’s economy requires a transport network fit for the 21st century.
This will require serious investment and the Scottish Government must find the necessary funds.
Right now, our transport network is outdated and failing, and Scotland is paying a heavy price.