Potholes threaten to detract from A9 road safety improvements - Alastair Dalton

The A9 has become an increasingly pleasant and less stressful part of my annual trip north to holiday in the Highlands – until this year.
The then infrastructure secretary Keith Brown promoting the A9 dualling scheme in 2014. Picture: Jane Barlow.The then infrastructure secretary Keith Brown promoting the A9 dualling scheme in 2014. Picture: Jane Barlow.
The then infrastructure secretary Keith Brown promoting the A9 dualling scheme in 2014. Picture: Jane Barlow.

Average speed cameras on the Dunblane to Inverness section have been a major contributor to that, significantly reducing the number of unnerving incidents I have experienced involving speeding and near-disastrous overtaking manoeuvres.

New sections of dual carriageway and overtaking lanes have also helped, especially a stretch of the former south of Aviemore providing welcome relief after many miles of two-lane road.

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Several junctions have also been improved, such as at Ballinluig, between Dunkeld and Pitlochry, the scene of several fatal crashes.

But what shocked me last week was the state of the road surface.

There was not just the occasional pothole and bump, as I have experienced in the past, but many over long stretches.

They were also not minor irritations but of major concern, from the sound of the car hitting them at the 60 and 70mph speed limits.

Most concerning, rather than scanning the road ahead for potential hazards, I found my focus shifting to the road immediately in front of me so I could spot and try to avoid the next hole.

That cannot be a good thing.

BEAR Scotland, the firm which maintains the road for Transport Scotland, said it made weekly safety inspections to identify defects, which were then “programmed for repair”.

However, that raised eyebrows with motoring experts, who reckoned such inspections by safety patrols should be more frequent.

They said a pothole on a major route should be spotted and fixed within 24 hours.

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On such a key trunk road, fixing them should be much more of a priority.

BEAR staff on the road every day should be reporting potholes, and there should be a driver-friendly means of doing the same.

I can’t believe single-carriageway sections of the A9 are being neglected simply because they are about to be dualled, since they are likely to remain part of the widened road.

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As for the dualling programme, pledged by the SNP 12 years ago, we are only now seeing work underway between Perth and Dunkeld that had been initiated by their Labour-Liberal Democrat predecessors.

That section between Luncarty and Birnam is not expected to be completed until next year.

In addition, nine other sections are still at the design stage, and the route through Birnam, beside Dunkeld, not due to be announced until later this year.

This is significant because ministers have not announced any update to the completion date of the whole scheme by 2025, or its estimated total cost of £3 billion, which have remained unchanged for the best part of a decade.

It’s the biggest building project in Scotland’s history, and with the Covid-19 outbreak delaying progress, it seems highly likely that one or both will be revised.

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Transport Scotland has admitted it can’t be more definitive until construction is ready to start after the necessary “statutory processes” are completed and contracts agreed.

With so much of the project still to be finished, it’s going to be a long haul – potentially five and half years or more of roadworks.

If the main reason for doing it – safety – pays dividends in reduced casualties and disruption, it will have been worth it.

But keeping the A9 well maintained in the interim is equally vital for safety.

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