Transport Scotland is standing firm against calls for a safe crossing point for cyclists, walkers and horse-riders across a stretch of the busy A9 road where an upgrade is currently taking place.
The two mile extension to the existing dual carriageway at Crubenmore between Perth and Inverness is due to be completed this year and crosses the line of General Wade’s Military route which is used as a leisure facility by various groups, including cyclists.
With construction already underway, there will be no provision for people to cross the carriageway either using a bridge, underpass or even a break in the central reservation barrier, at a point that is said to have been used for the past 300 years.
Transport Scotland, the Scottish Government's transport agency, has indicated to road.cc that there is simply no alternative crossing point for the public nearby.
Most vocal among the voices raised in protest over the matter has been local horse-riding centre owner Ruaridh Ormiston, who says he will no longer be able to cross the dual carriageway with his horses if Transport Scotland does not make the appropriate provision.
“When they originally built the A9 they created underpasses at various places, but there isn’t one here,” he said. “So wherever we cross with the horses the police have to stop the traffic, but in future we won’t even have that option.
“It would be really easy to put in one of these metal pipe underpasses and that would solve the whole issue, but Transport Scotland say they won’t do this.”
“Cyclists cross at this point all the time but obviously people are going to ignore the new restrictions and cross anyway. They’ll simply pick up their bikes and make a run for it, so there is a clearly safety issue.”
“There is even a walking leaflet produced by Scottish Rights of Way, Scottish Natural Heritage and the National Park Authority detailing a Hill Track which crosses the A9 where the upgrade is taking place, so why this was never flagged up, I have no idea.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson told road.cc: "Transport Scotland has undertaken extensive consultation about the dualling of the A9 at Crubenmore, with a wide range of stakeholders and over a number of years, with safety as a paramount design consideration.
"The decision not to provide a bridge or underpass was reached following review of the extensive consultation. This included consultation with the relevant local authority, Police, affected landowners, the Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Natural Heritage and key interest groups including the British Horse Society and cycling groups.
"The Crubenmore dualling scheme does not change the existing Rights of Way at this location and has been the subject of extensive consultation and statutory procedures which have now concluded to allow this vital scheme’s construction to get underway."
One of the organisations consulted was Sustrans Scotland. Katharine Taylor, the National Cycle Network Director for the organisation told us:
"The A9 road works have temporarily closed the National Cycle Network route but this will be reopened in October when the works are finished. In the interim, there has been an on-call shuttle bus service put in place to help walkers and cyclists continue along the route. Information on how to use this service is on our website and along the route.
"Although General Wade's Military Road is not part of the Network, it is a recognised route and it's presence should have been identified in the consultation process. It is important that walkers and other users should be able to continue to use it."
And that notion of missed opportunities at the consultation stage of the project is one that appears to have characterised the entire planning process. A disparate group of interested parties, most of which have few staff to devote time to studying the plans in detail, has, as a whole, failed to notice what many are now seeing as a fundamental flaw in Transport Scotland’s plans. As one interested party put it, the safe crossing issue has simply “fallen through the cracks”.
Adam Streeter-Smith an outdoor access officer for the Cairngorms National Park Authority told road.cc:
“It seems that the needs of those people who want to cross the A9 at this point have not been fully accounted for either by Transport Scotland or the consultees.
“So we are seeking to resolve with Transport Scotland just what provision could be put in place at this stage: ether a gap in the barrier or an opportunity to look at the widening of a cattle underpass nearby to make it more accessible.
“There is an issue of how connected the local Rights of Way are. A lot of things have been seen in isolation and there perhaps hasn’t been the overview of the entire project that there might have been. We are still in discussion with Transport Scotland about the issue and the mechanisms for dealing with it, so it’s not cut and dried yet”
To many in other parts of the UK, this may seem like a very local issue affecting a relatively low number of people. But the principle of a government department taking account of the needs and wants of interested parties during major construction projects is one that is of universal interest.
This case, perhaps, serves as a warning that when such interested parties are approached and respond in isolation from one another during the statutory consultation phase of a large project, a major issue like safe public access can easily be overlooked until, possibly, it’s too late.