A ROW has erupted after church ministers accused the Scottish Government of being “disingenuous” in stating the A9 could not be dualled faster.
Transport minister Keith Brown stressed to a delegation from the Free Church of Scotland that the £3 billion Perth-to-Inverness project posed “some of the most challenging work ever witnessed”.
Mr Brown said ways of bringing forward work would be considered, but he would not ride roughshod over the environment and homes to get it done before the planned completion date in 2025.
However, following a meeting with Mr Brown yesterday, the Free Church of Scotland claimed much of the A9 was a “blank canvas”.
The Rev Alasdair Macleod, of Lochbroom and Coigach Free Church in Ullapool, who is a former civil engineer, said: “Having had experience in the planning and design of different civil engineering projects prior to entering the ministry, any idea that there are engineering or planning obstacles that would delay dualling the A9 until 2025 is disingenuous to say the least.
“We are in open country, not in built-up urban areas. Engineering projects like this are straightforward by comparison, especially in the Highlands section of the A9.”
The Free Church ministers were lobbying Mr Brown to accelerate the work because they said they did not want to conduct any more funerals from crashes on the road.
The Church’s ministers have conducted five funerals from accidents on the Perth-Inverness section. Mr Brown said more than half the 80 miles of new dual carriageway were expected to be completed by 2022, three years before the scheme was due to be finished.
He described the scheme – the most expensive transport project in Scotland’s history – as “challenging and complex”. He said several sections would be dualled “well before” 2025, with the three-mile Kincraig-Dalraddy stretch near Aviemore completed in 2017 and the six-mile Luncarty-Birnam stretch near Dunkeld in 2019.
Mr Brown said: “The A9 passes through areas which are breathtaking and hugely important in terms of wildlife and landscape – not to mention people’s homes.
“The suggestion that we can somehow not consult people who stand to be affected by the upgrading work is of course not possible.”
Moderator of Inverness, Lochaber and Ross Presbytery Rev Colin Macleod, another member of the delegation, attacked Mr Brown’s decision to instal average speed cameras on the A9 between Dunblane and Inverness.
He said: “If anything, the problems on the A9 are from frustration due to low speeds – for example being stuck behind slow-moving lorries or caravans on single carriageway, and being unable to overtake on the dual because of ‘elephant racing’.
“In our eyes, average speed cameras over a 136-mile stretch with a 40mph restriction in many parts for HGVs will lead to more frustration, more accidents and more funerals.”