MOTORISTS may need to wait up to ten years for a permanent solution to stop landslides on an iconic Scots road which some fear has been shut indefinitely.

While Transport Scotland refused to put a timescale on the bid to fix the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful, the Herald has been told by a number of people attending stakeholders meetings that officials confirmed work was not expected to start on the new route for at least another five years.  And then it could take another five years for the alternative to be built.

The situation has cause uproar with motorists having already had to deal with decades of disruption over the important Highlands route.

READ MORE: A83 Rest and Be Thankful: No timescale for re-opening iconic Scots road

It has come as some of those who have attended meetings attended by Transport Secretary Michael Matheson have hit out at claims by both maintenance firm Bear Scotland the the Scottish Government that the situation is "unprecedented".

The Herald can reveal that issues with landslides at the spot were highlighted in the Scottish Road Network Landslides Study part authored by then Scottish Executive - 15 years ago.

The key transport artery in Argyll has been open for barely three weeks in nearly five months since a landslip brought about by rain blocked the road in early August.  There has been no date given for its re-opening.

Instead, maintenance workers are seeking to spend £1m on a barrier to protect the original alternative route, the single-track Old Military Road.  

That involves traffic being safely convoyed by an official vehicle on the single track road through Glen Croe. But even that has been frequently shut overnight because of fears that even it could be hit by landslides - leaving motorists with 60-mile detours. 

The A83 connects the Central Belt, via the A82 from Glasgow, to the Kintyre peninsula, all the way down to Campbeltown.

The Rest and Be Thankful is the highest point of a scenic ten mile route running from Tarbet to the A83's junction with the B828.

The words Rest & Be Thankful are inscribed on a stone near the junction, placed there by soldiers who built the original military road in 1753, now referred to as the Drovers' road.

The 2005 Scottish Road Network Landslides Study referred to instability, "including in the form of debris flows, in many areas underlain by schist" - a medium-grade metamorphic rock formed from mudstone or shale.

Good examples cited of "such instability" were the A83 in the vicinity of the Rest and be Thankful,  A83 Loch Shira, A890 Stromeferry and the A87 at Invermoriston. 

It said there was a need for landslide gates at locations where a physical closure may be deemed necessary, adding: "An obvious hazard area where such an approach would be appropriate is the A83 in the Rest and be Thankful area."

Seven years later Transport Scotland commissioned studies about permanent and short-term solutions about concerns over landslides on the road which had long since led to road closures.

The Herald:

READ MORE: Flashback to the latest clear-up. Source: BEAR Scotland

One report co-authored by a landscape architect for Transport Scotland referred to the A83 at Rest and be Thankful as one of the "highest ranked sites" in the 2005 landslides study.

Ministers have since been accused of wasting nearly £80m on more than a decade of failed solutions to the landslide issue after multiple slips exacerbated by heavy rainfall this year.

Some local residents have called for a public inquiry into the issue, demanding a permanent solution.

Iain Jurgensen, chairman of the Argyll and The Isles Tourism Co-operative (AITC) who attends the stakeholders' meetings said a solution had always been available to re-route the road using an existing track which has not got the same slippage issues, was one of those alarmed at the timescales for dealing with the problems.

"It is not unprecedented, it was inevitable what happened here," said Mr Jurgensen, who is also the managing director of Portavadie, the popular holiday resort overlooking Loch Fyne,  
"What is happened is that we have waited for it to fall to bits, and now they  want to take it up a gear.  Now they are so frightened of something bad happening to somebody that their default position is don't open it because we cannot have someone being hit by a landslide and really getting hurt or killed.

"The rain isn't going to be turned off anytime ever in Scotland. We are in the postion withere the A83 looks extremely fragile to be open for any period of time, given what we have experienced in the past three months.

He and others confirmed that it would be take five years to secure land and deal with planning and consultation before any permanent solution can even be started.
"When they talked about five years there was a sharp intake of breath from those who were on the call," he said.

"So we are going to have seven days a week, 24 hours a day convoy system on the OMR, how much is that costing the taxpayer."

In September, Transport Scotland published 11 options for a new route to replace the landslip-prone section of the A83 include building up to three bridges or tunnels.  But the choice of solution is not expected till next year.

The new solutions being considered include building new fixed link crossings at Loch Long, Gare Loch and the Firth of Clyde, which also include building a new road in the glen behind the current route.

Others include new crossings from near West Kilbride, North Ayrshire, to Bute via Little Cumbrae, and further crossings either over the Firth of Clyde from Rothesay to Toward, or from Rhubodach to Colintraive.   

READ MORE: Engineers can't say when plagued A83 at Rest and be Thankful will ever re-open - as £1m is spent protecting alternative route

Argyll and Bute Council have registered their concerns about the way the issues with the A83 have been handled.

An agreed message to ministers states: “The impact of decades of disruption at the main A83 is already severe enough.

“For the secondary diversion route to be similarly affected is utterly unacceptable to the remote, rural and islands communities of Argyll and Bute.

“At a time of unprecedented challenge, Argyll and Bute’s recovery, let alone its future, demands urgent action – now."

It too refers to a meeting of A83 stakeholders hearing that putting a permanent solution in place, once agreed, could require five or more years to secure the necessary permissions and wayleaves even before construction could start.
Then, construction itself would take a number of years more.

“This effectively asks Argyll and Bute to sustain another decade of the kind of disruption experienced over the last few weeks. This, again, is unsustainable and unacceptable.

“[The council] agrees that the potential timescale of another decade before a permanent solution is in place is unacceptable, and that a sustainable interim solution must be identified and implemented urgently to support Argyll and Bute’s economic recovery and resilience and to prevent serious risks to its future success."

A Transport Scotland spokesman when asked about the timescales said: "The current work to identify the preferred corridor is expected to be completed in Spring 2021.  Following this, designs will be progressed, and as with other projects to improve the trunk road network, there will be a need to complete the necessary environmental assessments and statutory process to allow land to be acquired and the project constructed.

“We recognise that the timescales for developing an alternative to the current route and finding a long-term solution to the challenges created by the Rest and Be Thankful section of the A83 are frustrating for the local community and we will look to compress the programme where possible. However, it is important that the correct statutory process is followed to ensure a fair and transparent assessment of options and impacts on local communities and road users.

“We remain committed to progressing substantial shorter-term investment in the existing A83 in tandem with the work to identify a permanent solution as part of a two-phased approach and we will keep local communities and road users updated as the design work progresses.”