At long last, after numerous promises and commitments, we now appear to have a timetable for dualling the A9 – the most ambitious, expensive, but also the most overdue transport project in Scotland.
However, although we may now have a timetable, it doesn’t mean that it is going to happen soon. According to unconfirmed reports, the A9 between Perth and Inverness is to be dualled by 2025.
While this would be tremendous news for Inverness in particular and for the Highlands in general, it does mean 14 years of roadworks, traffic lights, delays and queues on this 113-mile route.
It will be a huge project to dual the entire length to Inverness. There are some decent sections of dual carriageway already, but they are few and far between – sometime very far between – and there are miles and miles of single carriageway, often going through difficult terrain which will need significant investment of time and money to dual.
Some estimates put the cost at £4 billion, but that may be conservative. The cost by 2025 could be double that – making it by some margin the most expensive single transport project in Scotland.
This is a road which should, ideally, have been dualled many years ago – not just because the long stretches of single carriageway interspersed by short dualled sections make it one of the most dangerous trunk roads in the country. But also because the recent growth of Inverness into one of Scotland’s biggest and most important cities now makes it imperative.
The SNP has promised for the last two elections to dual the A9, but the scale of the project has always been so daunting that no one was willing to put a timetable on it.
There was never much chance of a Labour-led administration committing to it, because its electoral focus was always skewed towards Scotland’s centre and west – hence the M74 extension.
The Lib Dems were concerned about keeping their Borders supporters happy – hence the Waverley line.
So at least the SNP administration does seem to appreciate the need to keep the Highlands connected to the rest of Scotland.
“For too long people in Perthshire and the Highlands have had to face single carriageways and a higher risk of accidents,” said Pete Wishart, the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire. “I look forward to next week’s infrastructure plan and hope we will see a clear plan for the A9.”
SNP Highlands and Islands MSP John Finnie added: “As one of Europe’s fastest growing cities, improving the transport links to Inverness is essential. This would be a major win for the North of Scotland.
“The SNP has an excellent track record of improving infrastructure across the country with the completion of the M74 and progress on the M8.”
But Labour MSP Dave Stewart couldn’t resist the opportunity to be churlish. “It would be quicker sending a space probe to Mars and back before the SNP manage to finally dual the A9,” he said. “They have been full of big promises but have continually let the Highlands down.
“It was a key manifesto commitment in 2007 and John Swinney has been holding the chequebook ever since. It will be almost 20 years since the Nationalists’ promise and final delivery. Meantime, the lack of infrastructure development and delay has held back the Highlands economy. It is another example of the SNP failure of deliver on public projects.”
Mr Stewart’s comments might be worth something had the Labour-led administrations of 1999 and 2003 done anything to take forward the dualling of the A9.
Instead, with massive amounts of new money coming in every year, the Labour-led executives chose to prioritise the M74 from Glasgow to the border and ignore the demands of the A9.