As Transport Scotland report the near completion of the A83 diversion route through Glen Croe, Transport Minister Keith Brown has made a site visit to Rest and Be Thankful to see the poogress for himself.
The emergency diversion route, to offer access through the glen when this section of the A83 trunk road is closed with one of the landslides to which it its prone, uses, controversially, the historic Old Military Road.
The preparation of this old road to carry single lane traffic through and up the glen in these emergency situations is part of a £3.7 million programme of mitigation against landslides on this section of road through Argyll.
If that figure represents the total expenditure, it will include a substantial but undisclosed amount paid to the local landowner who had Transport Scotland in a cul de sac of their own making. Before negotiations were complete on a deal between them, Transport Scotland actually commenced works on the start and finish sections, on land owned by the helpful Forestry Commission Scotland, a fellow department of government.
This was done with genuine interest in being seen to be keen to get the job done for Argyll – but perhaps with less than savvy sense.
Transport Scotland say that the route is expected to be completed as early as this week, with vehicle convoy test runs set to get underway to ensure smooth running of the road when needed.
Speaking from the construction site in Glen Croe, Transport Minister, Keith Brown says: ‘Despite the challenges brought by bouts of severe weather throughout this winter, I’m delighted to see work here on the emergency road nearing completion. Our focus remains to ensure that as far as is practicably possible, Argyll stays open for business.
‘To this end, the team on the ground has worked seven days a week to overcome the significant engineering challenges needed to bring the Old Military Road up to the standard needed.
‘Subject to weather or other unforeseen events, we expect the road to be completed and available for use as early as this week – a road which will provide a faster and much shorter alternative to the diversion routes road users have had to endure up until now.
‘With the major engineering elements of the road substantially complete and some minor cosmetic work to be carried out, our operating company will soon be carrying out convoy trial runs for vehicles, including HGVs, in readiness should the need arise.
“Elsewhere, the latest phases of work, worth some £750,000, to install debris flow netting and debris catch pit on the hillside above the Rest and Be Thankful are progressing well with completion expected next month. The works will provide landslip mitigation measures with capacity for nearly 1500 cubic metres of material at key risk points along the hillside.
‘In addition, the feasibility study looking at more permanent solutions to landslides in the area has been put to stakeholders for their views and its findings are due to be published shortly. I look forward to discussing the outputs from the report with the A83 Taskforce at its meeting next week.
‘More widely, we have opened discussions aimed at helping Argyll & Bute Council develop a business case which will enable consideration to be given to trunking the route between Campbeltown and Kennacraig.
‘All of these efforts underline our commitment to ensure we mitigate as far as possible against the closure of this key artery through Argyll.’
Transport Scotland and Scotland Transerv are to be congratulated for early signs of the imoact of the motigation work on the hillside above the affecetd section of the A83. Despite being on notice of increased risk of landslides in recent bad weather, it held on and the road remained open.
Scotland Transerv has been seen to work away in all weathers on the diversion route and has been clearly dedicated to doing the best job possible.
Councillor John Semple, who leads for Argyll and Bute Council on Environment, Development and Infrastructure at Argyll & Bute Council, says: ‘I am very encouraged by the progress being made and would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the realisation of emergency route on the Old Military Road and also to those who got involved in the consultation process.
‘There are likely to be a lot of challenges ahead in the completion of these essential works but from what I have seen to date, everyone involved is committed to positive engagement.’
With no wish to to rain on the parade, a note of caution on unrealistic expectations is necessary.
In the event of a landslide on the Rest and Be Thankful section of the A83, the diversion route will be accessed by alternate convoys north and south up the single track emergency route through Glen Croe. With the legendary hill-climb chicane at the top end – and Scotland Transerv have done the best possible job to make that passable by HGVs, the progress of these convoys will be slow.
There will, depending on the time of day, be queues at both ends waiting to be led through and following traffic will have to give HGVs time to negotiate the difficult sections without stress. Some may need three-point turns to get around and the highest corner has been engineered to allow for that.
In total, progress through Glen Croe in these circumstances may not in practice be any quicker than the long diversion route currently used, north west and south on the A82 and A85. But the sense of frustration may be balanced by the knowledge of greater physical proximity to where those affected need to be.
Next – the Task Force meeting
The next issue is the meeting of the A83 Task Force next week.
Argyll needs its delegates and representatives at that meeting to play a good game to get agreed what they see as the best permanent option for this vital arterial route – and that has to be one that guarantees freedom from disruption. There is no scrap of commercial or fiscal sense investing in any option which may only improve the percentage risk of closure.