I can’t help feeling that Michael Russel MSP’s comments on the A83 Rest and Be Thankful (R&BT) stretch sound rather worrying.
It is all very well to deflect saying that “the key message must be that Argyll is open for business” and that “anyone who gives a different impression will do damage to the area” but does he really imagine that the almost weekly media reports we have heard and read throughout this winter concerning the closure or partial blocking of that road are somehow damaging to Argyll or in any way hushable? Hokum, it only damages those who govern while the road fails to deliver. Business people in Argyll and serving Argyll are not daft and will not believe the A83 is “open for business” when their vehicles physically cannot get through, especially when we have all recently witnessed the alternative route closed simultaneously thanks to flooding.
But this does not close Argyll, it is just an irritating nuisance caused by lack of proper management and investment. The reality is that a protective tunnel in the Alpine style, designed to shed all subsequent landslides and protect traffic should have been funded from the start. The only reason this did not happen, according to Keith Murray the Area Manager for Transport Scotland who wrote to me recently, was that “The (tunnel) option was, however, rejected for further consideration, since similar benefits can be achieved with other options in the study at lower cost and with a lower potential environmental impact.” He also went on to use the seemingly mandatory “Argyll remains open for business” mantra so perhaps he has been advised by the incumbent political propaganda department.
There are several important points that need picked up from these statements. The unfit for purpose situation we are forced to tolerate at the R&BT is the result of cheap scrimping by governing politicians, much the same as the Forth Road Bridge maintenances that were reportedly timeously missed, except that the Argyll – Glasgow connection clearly matters less in our governers minds than the Fife – Edinburgh connection. You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear, nor can you protect the A83 traffic with a mesh net and the injured people in the two vehicles caught in the most recent landslide are thankfully living proof of that fact. ‘Similar benefits’ to those that would be afforded by the construction of a permanent tunnel cannot in fact be achieved by the more affordable methods currently adopted. Fact. Also, nobody gives a tuppeny hoot, in a world where the Chinese buy over forty thousand new cars every day, whether the cheaper R&BT options currently plumped for come at a “lower potential environmental impact”. Fact. Providing a permanent, fail-safe solution to the everlasting landslide problem at the R&BT is a practical problem that no politician can solve.
This is a matter for a top drawer engineer and the only action the politicians and high ranking civil servants need to take is to make sure the required funding is in place for the real solution to be built. I think we all now know that the more skilled and successful the politician, the less we can believe what they want us to believe. We can only hope they come to their senses before we vote them back out of government.
we don’t want fewer closures, we want no closures
Note that both Michael Russel and Keith Murray are keen that we should be impressed by the amount of money that has been spent on the cheaper options effected to date. Mr Russel states “over £40 million on the A83 so far – there were fewer closures than previous years”. Well the winter’s not finished yet. And Mr Murray “over £48 million maintaining the A83 since 2007 -this includes £9 million at the R&BT”. Surely not much in an era when we can spend £776 million on the controversial Edinburgh trams and £414 million on a questionable new building for the Scottish parliament? The trouble with that line of argument is that many of us don’t believe the cost saving really will achieve anything worthwhile in the long run and we don’t want fewer closures, we want no closures. That will require the expensive tunnel option, then the A83 will really be ‘open for business’.