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Maree Todd urged to push for funding amid fears parts of north A9 'could be lost'


By Alan Hendry

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The narrow bridge at Culgower is described as 'an extreme hazard'.
The narrow bridge at Culgower is described as 'an extreme hazard'.

North MSP Maree Todd is being urged to take the lead in pushing for funds to upgrade sections of the A9 in Caithness and Sutherland.

The call has come from Highland councillors who fear there is a "real risk" that parts of the trunk road could be lost if the northern counties experience flooding on the scale seen in some parts of the region in the past week.

They warn of the "immense" implications for facilities such as Dounreay, Vulcan and the Sutherland Spaceport.

Matthew Reiss, the independent councillor for Thurso and Northwest Caithness, this week sent an open letter to Ms Todd – the SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross – on behalf of Richard Gale and Ron Gunn, who chair the Sutherland and Caithness area committees respectively.

In it, Councillor Reiss referred to a landslide under the A9 near Portgower in August 2018 which resulted in the southbound lane being closed for a lengthy spell.

He pointed out that the landslide was undetected for about a month, even though Transport Scotland, the national transport agency, carried out weekly checks of the route. "Luckily, the whole road did not need to be closed," Councillor Reiss noted.

He went on: "The recent heavy rainfall in Badenoch and further south should, again, remind the Scottish Government that the current route north of Dornoch is, in some areas, unstable, poorly engineered and has inadequate maintenance.

"Ditches at known trouble spots regularly overflow, whilst the narrow bridge at Culgower is an extreme hazard. Landslides have also occurred at Scrabster.

"In my judgement, were we to experience similar rainfall levels to those seen in Badenoch and Lochaber there is a real risk of parts of the road being lost."

The landslide under the A9 near Portgower in 2018. Picture: Matthew Reiss
The landslide under the A9 near Portgower in 2018. Picture: Matthew Reiss

He told Ms Todd: "Now that dualling of the A9 from Perth to Inverness is, effectively, on a very slow burner we are asking you as our constituency MSP to take the lead in obtaining the relatively small sums involved to upgrade the worst sections by straightening bends, widening the carriageway and assessing the entire route for structural stability by modern safety standards.

"Should this road be closed long term, or even for a few days, the implications for the far north, Dounreay, Vulcan, Orkney and the spaceport are immense."

Ms Todd said: “Road safety improvements on the A9 remain a top priority for the Scottish Government. We have already seen substantial investment in the road north of Inverness since 2008, with major schemes completed at both Helmsdale and Berriedale Braes.

“The extreme weather experienced over the weekend reminds us that climate change is not a distant issue. It is a threat not only to our road network, but to homes and businesses too.

“I fully recognise the concerns expressed by the chairs of the Sutherland and Caithness committees. I have raised the issues outlined in the letter with both the transport minister and Transport Scotland and hope to be able to provide an update shortly.”

New safety data last month showed that 10 of the 11 most dangerous single-carriageway sections of the A9 are north of Inverness, leading to renewed calls for urgent investment.

The figures, released by Transport Scotland following a Freedom of Information request, revealed there are 11 single-carriageway sections of the A9 between Perth and Scrabster that are more dangerous than the national average. Of these, 10 sections are north of Inverness – with five of them in Caithness.

Councillor Matthew Reiss says some parts of the route north of Dornoch are 'unstable' and 'poorly engineered'. Picture: Callum Mackay
Councillor Matthew Reiss says some parts of the route north of Dornoch are 'unstable' and 'poorly engineered'. Picture: Callum Mackay

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