SCOTLAND'S external affairs secretary Michael Russell is supporting a move to set a deadline of five years to have a replacement for one of Scotland's key roads opened - as it emerged experts are in a race against time to stop 100,000 tonnes of debris falling on the road,

The Scottish Government has been told by local councillors and Mr Russell that a replacement to the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful must be agreed, planned, contracted, constructed and opened by May 2026 at the latest.

That is despite the fact that transport officials have told local stakeholders at one meeting attended by transport secretary Michael Matheson that 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 caused uproar with motorists having already had to deal with decades of disruption over the important Highlands route which has become notorious for closures due to landslides.

It comes after the Scottish Government's transport agency's route manager Neil MacFarlane said it was looking at at 12 short-term options to prevent further calamity from falling debris, with 100,000 tonnes on the move.

He told community leaders in the area that 2020 saw 20,000 tonnes fall onto the infamous A83 at the Rest and be Thankful – double what has fallen in nearly two decades.

The deadline was set in a joint message to transport secretary Michael Matheson by Argyll and Bute’s council leader Robin Currie and the region's MSP Michael Russell, who has served as the cabinet secretary for the constitution, Europe and external affairs since 2020.

READ MORE: Race against time to stop 100,000 tonnes of debris falling on the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful

In response to the publication of an update to the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2) earlier this month, Mr Currie and Mr Russell said that the need for key actions to be progressed swiftly, setting a deadline of May, 2026 for a replacement to be in operation.

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Convoys are needed on the current single-track alternative route. Source: BEAR Scotland

It also calls for continuation and increase if necessary measures to stop further landslips at the site.

It also calls for more frequent meetings of the A83 Taskforce to focus on driving forward delivery of the replacement route.

Mr Russell said: “The report itself states the case that the A83 is one of only two trunk roads connecting Argyll and Bute to the central belt, that it is absolutely critical for the movement of goods and people and that it plays a vital part in all aspects of life in Argyll and Bute, from economy to education and employment opportunities.

“The pace of the action must match the urgency of the situation and that is why we are calling for the new route to be put in place in the life of the next parliament and no later.”

READ MORE: £80m 'wasted' over multiple failed fixes to iconic A83 Rest and Be Thankful

Mr Currie added: “Everyone with Argyll and Bute’s interests at heart is agreed that urgent action is needed to ensure our connections to and from the rest of the country are reliable, sustainable and open for business at all times.

“With this joint approach we are calling for three key actions and clear timescales to be put in place which will address this situation once and for all. As we focus on Argyll and Bute’s recovery it is absolutely vital to stay connected.”

The infamous A83 at Rest and be Thankful was being brought back into action last month as part of a strategy that was to see the the main road used during the day when weather conditions permit.

During the night-time, the single track alternative route, the Old Military Road (OMR) was to be used, which also is run through a single file convoy system, where drivers are escorted along the route.

The important Highlands route had been till then been barely open for three weeks in the previous five months since a landslip brought about by rain blocked the road in August. Drivers have faced 59-mile diversions when both routes are closed.

Before the A83 re-opening on Friday, Bear said a debris fence had been completed on hillside above A83 to provide further protection to road users.

They were also adding further protection for the OMR through a £1m barrier which would provide "additional protection" to motorists during hours of darkness.

Ministers have previously been accused of wasting nearly £80 million on more than a decade of failed solutions to landslides on the road after the latest multiple slips in heavy rainfall.

Some locals have called for a public inquiry into the problems, with many saying a permanent solution must be found.

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.

Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Argyll & Bute Alan Reid said: "The Rest & Be Thankful is a vital road link for Argyll & Bute. It should be a top priority for the Scottish Government. Instead, we've had 14 years of penny pinching and failed attempts at a solution. All we've heard so far is a vague election promise of a solution in 10 years time. That's not good enough. The Scottish Government must commit the resources now that are required to get a new road, protected from landslides, built as quickly as possible."
 

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