THE cost of completing the dualling of the A9 is going to be huge.
The cost of failing to do so before now is immeasurably larger. Once again yesterday this vital link in the Scottish trunk road network was closed for much of the day, following another horrific crash that left two more families grieving for lost loved ones.
No road in Scotland claims so many lives as the A9, which stretches 273 miles from Falkirk to Scrabster on the Pentland Firth. As it is by far the longest road in Scotland (and the fifth longest in the UK), this is hardly surprising, except that most of these fatalities are concentrated in the single-track sections between Perth and Inverness. In the past two years alone 24 people have lost their lives and hundreds have been injured. There are more than 200 accidents on average every year and countless near misses.
The construction in recent years of short stretches of dual carriageway for overtaking purposes has been as much a curse as a blessing. They may help to relieve the frustration of some drivers, stuck behind slow lorries or caravans, but merely add to the confusion of others, especially tourists unfamiliar with the road. The broad sweeping curves and the number of vehicles, including tractors, joining and leaving the A9 at its the many junctions are other aggravating factors.
Visitors from France and Germany are frankly incredulous that long stretches of such a busy and strategically important artery between Central Scotland and the Highlands remain single lane.
No political party has much to boast about when it comes to the A9. Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser deserves credit for his longstanding campaign to make the A9 a dual carriageway along it entire length but, during the Thatcher era, when much of the present road was built, our European neighbours were joining up their cities with two and three-lane highways. Post devolution, Labour and the Liberal Democrats adopted a piecemeal approach to upgrading the route. As for the SNP, despite a pledge to dual it in their 2007 manifesto, in the intervening five years less than two miles of dual carriageway has been built. The timetable for the £3bn project, announced late last year, has a start date of 2017, a decade after the SNP came to power at Holyrood. Completion is not envisaged until 2025, 13 years from now. Even allowing for the necessary consultations and preliminary work, this project could be well underway by now, given sufficient political will. Indeed, if urgency is measured in avoidable road deaths, it should perhaps have taken precedence over the second Forth crossing.
There are other costs too. It has been calculated that every fatal accident carries around £1m in direct costs. That is probably mirrored in indirect costs, such as the time and fuel consumed on lengthy detours when the road is closed. Yesterday's diversion was 120 miles long. Highlands and Islands Enterprise has calculated that dualling the road would benefit the Highland economy to the tune of £1bn a year. Conversely, pushing the upgrade into the future hampers the Scottish economy, especially that of fast-growing Inverness.
We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis. If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules, which are available here.
Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.