UPGRADING the “notorious” main road to the Highlands should be a national priority for the Scottish Government, a senior churchman has said.
The number of people killed on the A9 is a “shame to the nation”, said Professor Donald Macleod, former principal of Free Church College in Edinburgh.
The road, which links Perth with Inverness, has an “intolerably high” accident rate, he said.
Despite this, it has received “very different” treatment from the Scottish Government to that “lavished” on transport projects in the central belt, such as the Edinburgh trams project and the new Forth bridge.
Prof Macleod’s call comes less than two weeks after a leading police officer said plans to convert the A9 to a dual carriageway should be brought forward.
Earlier this month a crash involving two cars killed three people, including a mother and her young daughter from Edinburgh.
Abigail Houston, 42, and seven-year-old Mia, from Trinity, died in the crash which also claimed the life of Dr Mohammad Ali Hayajneh from Duisberg in Germany.
Prof Macleod said: “The road is notorious, the rate of accidents intolerably high and the cost in human lives a shame to the nation.”
He added: “I am not a frequent user of the A9, but a dozen or so times a year I have to risk it. And each time I set off I know there is a risk that the road will be ‘closed due to an accident’.”
He said he experienced this twice in the last six months, but wrote: “I’m long past the point where such a warning irritates me. You know at once that you have been merely inconvenienced, while someone else has been struck by tragedy.”
Most of the A9 is single carriage, and the Scottish Government’s plan would upgrade it to dual carriageway by 2025. The £3 billion work would convert 80 miles of the road.
Prof Macleod wrote: “The Scottish Government refuses to treat the upgrading of this lethal trunk road as a national priority.”
This contrasts with the “very different treatment lavished on the central belt” with the “fortune spent on the grossly under-used M9 between Edinburgh and Stirling and the billions spent on Edinburgh’s trams and the new Forth bridge”.
But Prof Macleod said: “How many lives will these projects save?”
A Scottish Government spokesman insisted that dualling the A9 is “one of the top transport infrastructure projects in the country”.
He said: “The dualling of the A9 has been talked about for at least a generation, but we are the first administration committed to making the road dual carriageway, all the way from Perth to Inverness, a reality.
“Make no mistake, this is one of the top transport infrastructure projects in the country; and we have already spent around £50 million pounds to improve safety on the A9 since 2007, including £14 million for Crubenmore dualling which has improved safety and journey times by doubling the length of the dual carriageway.
“We are determined that A9 motorists should see improvements on the route as soon as possible. We are now inviting bidders for three major design contracts for the route, and we will look for any opportunity to bring work forward.
“Development is under way for design of three dualling schemes which will improve safety of 28km of existing single carriage route: Luncarty to Pass of Birnam; the Birnam to Tay Crossing; and Kincraig to Dalraddy.
“Dualling involves the upgrading of 80 miles of carriageway, and much of the work lies in the planning and consultation process that must be undertaken before construction can begin. Each section of dualling represents a major project and these require in-depth planning and design to ensure that we keep impacts on communities, businesses and the environment to the absolute minimum.
The spokesman added: “In the short term we have asked the A9 Safety Group to look at improved consistency of signing and lining, improved geometry and safety barrier works, variable messaging signs displaying journey times and the possibility of introducing average speed cameras. Many of these measures have already been introduced.
“Road casualties in Scotland are at their lowest level since records began but there is clearly much work still to be done.”