An ambitious £55million bid has been submitted by Highland Council to transform public transport with a bus revolution across the north.
The local authority has developed a blueprint to try and keep cars away from congested roads while driving down emissions.
New park and ride sites with priority bus lanes and junctions are planned for both Inverness and Fort William.
However, other improvements also being lined up include projects in both Aviemore and Portree to ease congestion at busy tourist sites by encouraging motorists to take the bus instead.
Bus revolution aims to reduce pollution
Trish Robertson, chairwoman of Highland Council’s economy, development and infrastructure committee, said the bid for funding from Transport Scotland was a “fantastic opportunity” to help the region rebuild from the coronavirus pandemic.
She said: “The Bus Partnership Fund offers the Highlands the chance of significant investment towards a modern and multi-modal transport network.
“This funding would support our recovery from Covid-19, both through construction jobs and helping buses to become more efficient and recover from this sustained period of reduced patronage.
“If this bid is successful, it will give us a fantastic chance to work with partners to deliver major benefits for the region.
“We look forward to working closely with Transport Scotland on the various proposals for the trunk road network, which are assets within their control but make up a significant part of the transport network in our villages, towns and the city of Inverness.”
Other proposals being considered include enhancing the main east to west routes through Inverness by giving more priority to buses.
Park and ride facilities on the A96 Aberdeen road, A9 Thurso road and A82 Drumnadrochit road approaches to the city may also be developed.
Investigations to reduce bus delays in Fort William due to congestion have also been proposed with improvements in Dingwall and Invergordon also under consideration.
Hopes Highlands communities will see benefits
Concerns have been raised in recent years about some beauty spots being unable to cope with the huge number of cars.
Campaigners back the Highland Council bus revolution project for easing disruption on communities living near popular destinations.
Simon Cousins, communications director of SkyeConnect, which has worked with Highland Council on the plans, is delighted public transport will provide links to some of the island’s most popular attractions.
He said: “We know that in peak season, pre-Covid, the roads to places like Neist point could become very congested – this resulted in cars getting stuck or blocking the entrance to people’s home.
“Anything that reduces the number of cars on the road will be welcomed by our communities. It makes practical and environmental sense.
“Our role now is to encourage visitors to leave their cars in Portree and use the bus. If we can demonstrate the popularity of the service and the benefit to our communities we would like to see similar park and ride services established across Skye.”
The bid from Highland Council to Transport Scotland, which was submitted yesterday, will examine options and work up designs.
A second phase of the application is due to take place in October.
The local authority has described the £55million price-tag as a “broad estimate” before further design work is done.
Highland Council says it has also worked with bus operators Shiel Buses and Stagecoach while developing the proposals as well as NHS Highland, the Cairngorms National Park Authority, Hitrans and the Cromarty Firth Port Authority.
A Stagecoach spokeswoman said: “We are working closely with all partners to secure funding that will improve the infrastructure around the Highlands and the overall transport network.”