CHURCH leaders in the Highlands have called for Scotland’s “killer” road - the A9 - to be dualled as a matter of urgency to prevent more families being “torn apart by tragedy” on the busy route.
Ministers in the Free Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of Inverness, Lochaber and Ross have told Keith Brown, the Scottish Transport Minister, they have “no wish” to conduct any more funerals for victims of fatal crashes on the Perth to Inverness road.
A total of 14 Ministers from the large presbytery have written to Mr Brown, backing calls for the entire route to be made dual carriageway well before the current 2025 target.
Last month the Scottish Government announced that average speed cameras are to be installed on more than 100 miles of Scotland’s most notorious road in a bid to improve safety.following the latest fatal crash, on 9 July, in which three people were killed on a single-carriageway stretch of the A9 near Newtonmore.
Professor Donald Macleod, a former principal of Free Church College in Edinburgh, last month described the A9 death toll as “a shame to the nation.”
And the Free Church Ministers in the Highlands have now told Mr Brown that, while the introduction of the cameras will help reduce speed on the road, the 2025 target date for the completion of the £3 billion dualling scheme must be brought forward as a matter of the “utmost urgency.”
There have been about 100 deaths on the road in the past eight years.
The letter from Ministers, written on their behalf by the Rev Colin Macleod, Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland Presbytery of Inverness, Lochaber and Ross states: “In our pastoral duties, some of us have witnessed first-hand families being torn apart after loved-ones have died in utterly devastating circumstances on this road.
“We are sure we speak for clergy from other denominations as well, in that we have no wish to conduct any more funerals caused by the tragic and sudden loss of life from accidents on the A9. “
They state: “As Free Church of Scotland ministers based in the Highlands we travel on the A9 to the Central Belt several occasions each year. The same would be true for many of our elders, members and adherents in our congregations - not to mention those in the communities we live in.”
The letter continues: “It is statistically proven that the A9 is Scotland’s most dangerous road, and the recent media coverage about the need for a dual carriageway between Perth and Inverness will not have escaped your attention.
“We accept the present state of the road in itself kills no one, and that many of the fatalities are caused by bad driving - either through confusion or by sheer frustration resulting in dangerous overtaking. Whilst the average speed cameras will reduce an element of risk, the 2025 complete date for dual carriageway simply isn’t soon enough and we urge you to do everything in your power to fast-track these proposals.
“It is our Christian duty to speak out to prevent the unnecessary loss of life, and we believe dualling the A9 would be a sensible measure for the people of Scotland – not to mention the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit our lands each year.”
The Ministers conclude: “From 2006-2010, the most recent statistics available, 67 people have died and there have been over 1,200 collisions on the A9. “e sincerely hope the Scottish Government is not prepared to sit on its hands until another 67 people perish, and we call on you to dual the A9 between Perth and Inverness as a matter of the utmost urgency.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We have received the Rev. Macleod’s letter and will respond directly. This Scottish Government is the only government to have committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and we have already invested £50 million on improvements between the two cities since 2007.
“We are determined that A9 motorists should see improvements on the route as soon as possible and we are now inviting bidders for three big design contracts for the route. “
He continued: “In addition to the major improvements already done, we also continue to invest in the ongoing maintenance of the A9. This includes an annual programme of road and bridge maintenance schemes, road safety schemes and general repairs.”
The spokesman added: “While dualling can be the long-term solution, we will continue to make more immediate improvements that will encourage positive changes to driver behaviour.We expect the recently announced average speed camera system to be fully operational on the A9 by the summer of 2014. These have a proven track record of reducing casualties and excessive speed and their high visibility leads to better compliance of the speed limit.”
UK Cabinet minister Danny Alexander welcomed the intervention of the Free Church Ministers in the dualling debate.
Mr Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Liberal Democrat MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey , last week condemned the plans for average speed cameras on the A9 as a “knee-jerk decision” to the death toll on the road.
And he said today: ““This is a very welcome addition to the support for dualling the A9. Quite rightly, the Ministers are highlighting the costs of delay. And we still have not seen any evidence that the SNP’s proposal to install Average Speed Cameras will improve the situation.”
Mr Alexander added: “Maybe now the Scottish Government will sit up and take notice of what people in the Highlands want.”