Highland lifeline a ‘poor relation’, says Fergus Ewing

The A82 near Inveruglas on Loch Lomond. Picture: John Devlin
The A82 near Inveruglas on Loch Lomond. Picture: John Devlin
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Major routes in western Scotland should be upgraded because they have become the “poor relation” of the rest of the network, a Scottish cabinet minister has urged.

Rural Economy and Connectivity Secretary Fergus Ewing is understood to have mainly referred to the A82 between Glasgow and Inverness, which takes in Loch Lomond, Glencoe and Loch Ness. When it was completed in 1934, Inverness MP Sir Murdoch Macdonald hailed it as “one of the finest roads in the world”.

However, speaking at the annual Scottish Transport Summit in Glasgow, Ewing said: “I think we need to look at trunk roads in Argyll and Lochaber and the far north, which are a bit of a poor relation at the moment.”

Improvements to a twisty section of the A82 beside Loch Lomond between Tarbet and Inverarnan are already in the pipeline. However, campaigners said the rest of the road was “no longer fit for purpose” and frequently closed by crashes and maintenance work.

Stewart Maclean, of the A82 Partnership, which lobbies for upgrading, said other priorities should be a Fort William bypass and widening a ten-mile stretch between the town and Onich.

He said: “Successive governments have failed to invest adequately in the road infrastructure of the West Highlands and Islands, particularly the lifeline to this area which is the A82.

“Whilst billions of pounds are poured into the dualling of the A9, the Aberdeen bypass, the M74 extension and the Queensferry Crossing, sections of the A82 have seen little or no investment for nearly 100 years. With no air connections and limited rail facilities, the West Highlands rely more on their road infrastructure than most other areas of Scotland.

“However, the road infrastructure, due to its inadequacy, is subject to frequent closures caused by road traffic incidents and maintenance works.”

Neil Greig, the Scotland-based policy and research director of motoring group IAM RoadSmart, said: “The standard of our so-called A roads in parts of Argyll and the north-west is nothing short of embarrassing in places. Traffic flows may be low, but as long as most deaths occur on rural roads it is vital that investment continues in our key long-distance trunk roads.”

However, sustainable transport campaigners Transform Scotland said potholes should be addressed first. Director Colin Howden said: “Fixing the £2.5 billion road maintenance backlog should be the focus for roads investment. There would need to be a robust and transparent business case for any new road construction proposals.”

The Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is responsible for trunk roads, said further potential A82 upgrades would be investigated.

Its spokesman said: “We have already delivered both the Crianlarich Bypass and the Pulpit Rock [Loch Lomond] improvement scheme on this vital route and are progressing our plans to upgrade the road between Tarbet and Inverarnan with preparation of draft orders expected later in 2018-19.”

He said an update of the agency’s ten-year-old strategic transport projects review would “identify future strategic infrastructure improvements across the country including the trunk road network in Argyll and Bute and the Highlands”.