Transport chiefs are facing fresh demands for investment after figures showed that traffic has soared by up to 140% on some of the roads that now form the North Coast 500.
Data released to The Press and Journal confirmed that the average number of vehicles travelling every day on remote roads in Sutherland has more than doubled.
The statistics show there had already been a huge rise in traffic at many points before the popular NC500 driving route around the region was launched in 2015 and that the growth has continued since.
That has led to congestion and delayed journeys for residents of some communities along the route – and those forced to make use of single track sections in particular.
How bad is the traffic?
In the far north, the average daily traffic flows on the A894 between the Laxford Bridge and Scourie increased by 140% between 2000 and 2017.
There has also been a 123% rise on the same road between Kylesku and Loch Assynt, a near-70% increase in vehicle flows on the A836 between John O’Groats and Castletown, and a 33% rise between Tongue and Bettyhill.
And in Wester Ross, traffic on both sides of Loch Carron, on the A890 and the A896, has soared by two-thirds since 2000, including a 10% and 6% rise respectively between 2014 and 2017.
Meanwhile, the number of vehicles on the A835 Tore to Ullapool road increased by a third since the NC500 was launched, while there was a near 14% rise on the A9 Dornoch Bridge in the period.
North, West and Central Sutherland councillor Hugh Morrison, vice chairman of Highland Council’s infrastructure committee, said his journeys to Inverness can be 40 minutes longer than they were a few years ago.
And he believes many single track sections of the roads in the north are under pressure.
“That’s the biggest area of concern. That’s where the issues are caused,” he said.
“That’s where you can see the volume of traffic, on the single track, and that’s the frustration of local people in the area.
“Everybody will have noticed that big increase. It’s night and day to what the traffic was 10 years ago. And the number of camper vans on the road – we were inundated last summer.
“The council does need to be taking a look at the north now. I think there is extra money coming in the budget but there is only so much the council can do.”
Unlike many of the other roads, the figures showed that traffic on the A9 Cromarty Bridge had dropped in the last couple of years, though it did have restrictions in place during recent upgrade work.
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The data, compiled by the UK Department for Transport and Transport Scotland using counters and estimates, also showed a fall in vehicles since 2000 on the A896 between Shieldaig and Kinlochewe, and on the A832 near Gairloch, although there had been a rise at both locations in recent years.
Highland Council is responsible for the largest road network in Scotland and its leaders have said the region should be treated as a “special case” and awarded extra capital funding to start addressing the £1.7 billion of work required on the roads over the next decade.
Last night, Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MP Jamie Stone said: “These traffic figures prove that we desperately need in investment in local government. The SNP government must wake up to their responsibilities.
“For too long Highland roads have been the poor relation to an SNP government that cannot see further than Inverness.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We fully recognise the importance of a safe and reliable trunk road network and the budget for maintenance for the roads we look after will increase by around £33 million to £467 million in the 2019/20 Budget.
“The local road network is the responsibility of councils and it is up to them to allocate resources based on local priorities.
“We have continued to ensure our partners in local government receive a fair funding settlement despite further cuts from the UK Government.”