MSPs have demanded that tackling the congestion nightmare on Edinburgh’s city bypass is treated as a “national transport priority”.
The ageing road is no longer “fit for purpose” to deal with the soaring populations of the Lothians and the capital’s status as the “powerhouse” of Scotland’s economy, a Holyrood debate heard today.
Transport minister Humza Yousaf faced calls to widen the road to accommodate more cars and other options to ease congestion.
Concern has soared over the lengthy logjams faced by commuters.
Local businesses are losing out as hours are lost in hold-ups, while the “sanity” of drivers is being tested.
Mr Yousaf pledged to look at the deployment of “smart technology” on the motorway to allay growing concerns and to press on with a long-awaited flyover at Sheriffhall roundabout as quickly as possible.
But he warned a lengthy public inquiry may be needed, which could delay the development for years.
“Gridlocked trunk roads create a bad impression for inward investors and those wanting to visit our area,” Tory Lothians MSP Miles Briggs said.
“Edinburgh is a showcase for the whole country and we need to have modern and efficient transport infrastructure.”
“We are now the powerhouse of the Scottish economy - and for that growth to be sustained in the future we must have the infrastructure to allow the area to continue to attract the businesses and inward investment in key sectors like life sciences with Edinburgh’s BioQuarter, Queen Margaret University and the proposed film studio at Straiton located just off the bypass.”
The bypass has been classed as the most congested trunk road in the UK outside London, with almost 80,000 cars a day using the road.
Labour Lothians MSP Neil Findlay described the congestion a “absolutely chronic amid growing in the Lothians over lengthy logjams faced by commuters”.
“I would rather pull my teeth out with pliers without anasthaetic than drive the bypass each day,” he said.
“The all-round waste of time of being stuck on that road is bad for the economy, for the environment, for the health of residents and the wellbeing and the sanity of drivers.”
The demand for goods and services like GP practices has been soaring as the local population grows, Mr Findlay said.
“The road infrastructure as it stands are simply not fit for purpose to serve that growing area,” he said. “This is the capital city. It is the economic hub of the region and the economic hub for the country and the bypass is an essential link to the south, to markets, as the north and west.”
Mr Yousaf pledged too look into the possibility of so-called “smart motorway” technology being used on the bypass, which could mean varying speed limits at peak times and the use of hard shoulders.
He said the Government could not short-cut the “statutory obligations” involved in building the Sheriffhall flyover or ministers would be open to a legal challenge.
“But I can give an absolute assurance that we will do everything we can in our power to deliver this scheme as quickly as we possibly can,” he said.
“This is an infrastructure project of national importance.”
Draft orders will be published next year, but the size of the scale of the scheme mean it may attract objections, he said.
“And, of course, depending on those objections there may be a need for a public local inquiry,” Mr Yousaf said.