What next for Scotland’s motorway network?

The M8 motorway linking Glasgow and Edinburgh is one of the busiest in the UK. Picture: John Devlin
The M8 motorway linking Glasgow and Edinburgh is one of the busiest in the UK. Picture: John Devlin
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TO DRIVERS stuck in rush hour tailbacks across the country, building more motorways may seem like a simple solution.

But the demand for improvements to the nation’s major roads must be balanced against a desire for reduced carbon emissions and competing transport projects.

An aerial view of the M8 motorway winding its way through Charing Cross in central Glasgow.

An aerial view of the M8 motorway winding its way through Charing Cross in central Glasgow.

As car ownership continues to climb, tough decisions must be taken on where to make investments.

Maintaining the existing motorway network and ensuring traffic continues to flow is the responsibility of government agency Transport Scotland.

It’s an on-going battle.

Despite the completion of the M74 extension in 2011, which provided an alternative motorway route across Glasgow for the first time, tailbacks continue at peak times.

Congestion was always predicted on M8 and M77 routes as traffic levels increased

Stuart Baird

The extension resulted in around 25,000 vehicles per day being removed from the busiest stretches of M8 including the Kingston Bridge.

Work is now underway to upgrade the core of Scotland’s motorway network, which Transport Scotland believes will boost Scotland’s economy by improving connections between the commercial centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

£500 million-worth of improvements will be carried out on the M8, M73 and M74 motorways.

It’s hoped road users travelling between Glasgow and Edinburgh will benefit by shaving almost 20 minutes off their daily commute - equating to an annual saving of a week spent behind the wheel.

The Grand Hotel in Glasgow's Charing Cross ahead of its demolition to make way for the M8 motorway

The Grand Hotel in Glasgow's Charing Cross ahead of its demolition to make way for the M8 motorway

Campaigners believe that more could have been done to prevent such congestion.

“All of the present problems above were anticipated in both A Highway Plan for Glasgow, published in 1965, and the wider Greater Glasgow Transportation Study, published in 1967,” said Stuart Baird, who co-runs the Glasgow’s Motorways website.

“These reports were last major highway studies undertaken in the Greater Glasgow area and recommended a number of motorways and expressways based on predicted future traffic flows.

“Congestion was always anticipated on M8 and M77 routes as traffic levels increased, and for this reason additional routes were intended to be constructed over a period of 20-30 years to ensure traffic was kept moving.”

Beyond the central belt, the most significant project underway is the dualling of the A9 trunk road from Perth to Inverness, scheduled to be completed by 2025.

The £3 billion project involves upgrading 80 miles of single carriageway.

Baird argues that several other road projects, originally planned in the 1960s, should now be revived.

Among them is a two-lane motorway between Paisley and Hamilton.

“This road would pass around the south of Paisley and to the north of Barrhead, crossing the M77 near Darnley before turning south around Busby and East Kilbride, and eventually turning north to pass to the east of Hamilton, joining the M74 near junction six,” he said.

“The Glasgow southern orbital route completed in 2005 could be utilised as part of this route which could be moved north to join the M73 at Maryville.

“This route was seen as part of an outer ring road for the city and planned as a two lane rural motorway. Much of the land required for this route remains empty. It would reroute tens of thousands of vehicles away from the M8 corridor and other local routes.”

Not everyone is in favour of building more motorways. Evironmentalists argue more should be done to encourage drivers out of their cars and on to public transport.

There are also those with painful memories of the disruption caused by building motorways through urban areas like Glasgow’s Charing Cross in the 1960s.

“New transport infrastructure must be justified on a full analysis of social, environmental and economic costs and benefits with a strong presumption against road building except for by-passes where communities are divided by a

major arterial road,” states a Scottish Green party policy document.

“Greens want to see an integrated, socially equitable and environmentally sustainable transport system for Scotland that prioritises pedestrians, people with mobility problems, cyclists, public transport users, commercial traffic and business travel and finally private car users. We would reduce demand by bringing jobs, shops, schools, amenities and leisure facilities closer to where people live and would strengthen planning powers to do so.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “A comprehensive review of Scotland’s transport priorities over the next 20 years has been carried out to ensure we target investment that will most effectively support Scotland’s sustainable economic development.

“We have already delivered motorway improvement schemes including the M74 ‘Missing Link’, and are pressing ahead with a raft of further work to improve journey times and connections, tackle congestion, and improve road safety right across Scotland. The £500m M8/73/74 Motorways Improvements, £1.35bn Queensferry Crossing and £745m Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route are all progressing well and becoming increasingly visible, and construction on the £3bn A9 dualling project started last month.

“This, is in addition to maintenance of the existing 3,500km of trunk road and motorways worth £250m every year, represents a significant investment in Scotland’s infrastructure ensuring that Scotland has a motorway and trunk road network fit for the 21st century.”