The Highland capital ground to a halt yesterday when a canal swing bridge stuck open, causing widespread gridlock.
Hundreds of motorists were delayed after the Tomnahurich Bridge carrying the main A82 Inverness trunk road between the city and Fort William developed a serious fault.
Pleasure craft on the Caledonian Canal were also marooned on either side as the crossing was blocked to traffic from mid-afternoon.
Engineers were working frantically to try to repair the problem last night, however there were fears the crucial bridge could remain out of action this morning.
Critics of plans to construct another swing bridge over the canal at Tomnahurich as part of the controversial West Link Road project said the chaos illustrated the limitations of the scheme – and called for a re-think of the proposals.
The congestion – sparked by a 5ins gap in the mechanism of the structure – led to some motorists walking away from their vehicles in frustration.
Police set up hastily arranged detours in order to get traffic moving, but these also became jammed.
The problems were exacerbated as engineers trying to make their way to the scene were caught up in the tailbacks.
Last night teams were battling to remove a buffer that had detached from the bridge shortly before 2.40pm, jamming the mechanism.
The emergency repairs involved a special winch and hoist known as a Tirfor, which is used to raise the deck of the bridge so the trapped device can be freed.
At one point yesterday, queues of cars extended back along Glenurquhart Road and Tomnahurich Street, onto Young Street in the city-centre and along to the opposite end of Kenneth Street.
Diversions were put in place via General Booth Road and the Muirtown Bridge over the canal as Bear Scotland erected signs and police directed traffic.
Last night a Scottish Canals spokesman said: “Obviously, this is being dealt with as a priority and maintenance teams are currently working to implement a repair and get the bridge back into operation as soon as possible.”
Motorist Houston Brown, of Glenburn Drive, Inverness, was among those caught up in the chaos yesterday.
He said: “It was absolute gridlock in the town-centre. It took me at least 45 minutes to get 400 yards along Kenneth Street.
“Most of the town-centre was not moving at all. People were getting out of their cars to see what was going on because they were so frustrated.”
Questions were also raised by some residents over plans to construct another swing bridge over the canal at Tomnahurich as part of the controversial West Link Road project.
Ted MacKenzie, chairman of Dalneigh and Columba community council, said: “This incident should scare folk away from building another swing bridge across the canal. It is a tunnel that’s needed in there, and there’s a lot of folk who think that.
“We have so many bridges over the river and the canal. It’s high time the council and the powers that be changed their minds and got cracking with a tunnel because we are going to have the same problems with swing bridges in the future. They should listen to the public.”
Councillor Alex Graham, Inverness West, said: “I know Muirtown Bridge has been stuck in the past due to the heat but I don’t remember Tomnahurich ever being stuck for long before, and I have been here since 1979. It’s a very unfortunate occurrence and I hope that Scottish Canals will be able to repair the bridge and allow the traffic to start moving again.
“It certainly highlights the need for better crossings over the Caledonian Canal.
“My personal preference was for a tunnel at Torvean for the West Link but it would have cost a considerable amount more.
“Having a tunnel would certainly mean you would be completely free of these mechanical difficulties. But the second swing bridge will go a long way to alleviate concerns for road users.”