Alex Neil, Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure and Capital Investment, has written – sometime in June – to Michael Russell, Argyll and Bute’s MSP on developments with the landslide-plagued A83 at Rest and Be Thankful.
The Neil letter
‘Thank you for your email of 6 June about the A83 trunk road at the Rest and Be Thankful.
‘Our operating company, Scotland TranServ, continues to explore the emergency diversion route options of upgrading the forest access road or alternatively bringing the Old Military Road back into use. A number of concerns about the forest track option have emerged, in particular the narrowness and steepness of the track alignment and the very steep side slopes.
‘Transport Scotland considers that the Old Military Road has a number of advantages over the forest track. It is wider with no steep slopes over most of its length. The engineering is simpler and wind blown trees are less of a problem. The alignment is generally straighter with less severe consequences, should a vehicle leave the road. In addition, the road construction is more substantial reducing the need for thick resurfacing layers to be laid to carry traffic loads.
‘The Old Military Road was originally thought not to be suitable because of the steepness of the incline and a hairpin bend at the western end, however a further assessment has indicated that an acceptable alignment could be achieved. At a site meeting on 1 May, the landowner’s agent gave a positive response to these proposals. Discussions are ongoing with the agent regarding the use of this private access.
‘Transport Scotland continues to progress both options in parallel at present and the feasibility report will be finalised shortly. It is still planned to construct these works this summer, although there is now a risk of programme slippage given the difficulties with the forest track, and the potential move of our activity toward the Old Military Road.
‘The legal status of the Old Military Road has been investigated and it is most likely classified as a private access. As such, permission from the landowner will be required. Transport Scotland is currently in the process of drafting up a Minute of Agreement and should be in a position to put it before the landowner later this month.
‘Transport Scotland and our operating company are actively taking forward the design of both alternatives, and exploring the necessary legal agreements and discussing funding with the Forestry Commission. Subject to the final completion of this work, we are still confident that the work to construct a diversion route can start this summer.
‘The protective landslide netting is currently under construction and the completion of this work in July will allow us to remove the temporary traffic management on the A83. We will continue to communicate our plans to the local community, with respect to the reopening of the road to 2-way traffic, the diversion route and the wider A83 study, which is about to start.
‘Your continued support for this project is appreciated. The Scottish Government realises the importance of the A83 to the communities of Argyll and Bute and I can assure you that every effort is being made to progress this project to completion as a matter of urgency.’
The Russell comment
‘I am pleased that progress is being made but I will continue to press for work on the emergency alternative to start – and be completed – as soon as possible.
‘Getting the study finished is also very important as it will inform the longer term issues’.
It’s hard to understand why it has taken so long to identify the quite substantial problems in using the forest access road as the emergency diversion.
The steep side slopes are immediately obvious, as is the narrowness of the track. Digging out greater width from the uphill slope would not be a minor operation – and might leave that slope prone to landslippage in its own right.
The old General Wade road in the valley floor looks feasible until you get to the series of very steep, very narrow single track chicanes rising to the car park at the Rest itself.
What would it take to get a Tesco truck up that hillclimb?
The cost of engineering an emergency alternative to the A83 at this point – from either of these options – looks like money far better spent on the sound gallery solution to the trunk road itself.
Just doing what needs to be done instead of wasting money on expensive make-dos would see the huge advantage of an early and enduring solution to this key arterial road itself.
Most people would want to see an end to the current uncertainty and to witness the government spending money on infrastructure for the west coast.
In our view the current study is an emergency diversion all of its own.
We may be wrong in reading a certain resigned frustration between the lines of Michael Russell’s response. He will realise that the only ‘longer term issue’ is getting an efficient and reliable A83 at this point.
If they spend effort, time and money on a hash-up for the bad days, we will inevitably be left with an A83 down to a single traffic light controlled carriageway on the run up to the Rest for the foreseeable future – with a white knuckle ride on the forest track or the spectator sport of watching Eddie Stobart and Tesco vie to be first to make it to the top of the Rest. A very special Push Me Pull You just for Argyll?
And what happens in icy winter in this glen where the sun don’t shine and an unwary chicane sees a truck stuck across a high chicane?