Forgive me for being as repetitive as the clickety-clack of a train on a track – I know I have said before that I was born into a railway family.
And although nary an engine number have I ever inscribed with a pencil stub in any tattered spiral notebook drawn from a parka pocket, the railway is in me. This metadata will explain why I was well into my teens before I drove down the A9.
We, as a family, enjoyed free travel because of my dad’s job as a railwayman and, therefore, went everywhere, home and abroad, by train from Inverness. I was 18 when I gratefully received my first car and took it off to university.
It was only then, on my debut A9 white-knuckle ride, and in the depths of a very harsh winter, too, that I understood what all the fuss was about. And, sadly, all these decades on, I have to say things haven’t improved to the extent that I would ever use the road willingly today.
Existing as I do in a post-frontline media career bubble, with no deadlines on my horizon to speak of, I take the much more picturesque run along languid Loch Lomond, through glorious Glencoe and down lovely Loch Ness.
Even 40 years ago, when I drove that first banger down the road to Perth, I believed that upgrading it to a dual carriageway was surely a priority, to give it the appellation of a true trunk road. And I have watched with bated breath since, waiting for the announcement that the full length of the route would be dualled.
Yes, there have been stretches with overtaking lanes built and lengths with average speed cameras installed which (against my predictions, if I’m being wholly honest) reduced accidents. But it’s not speed which causes danger on that – or, I suppose, any – road, but frustration.
And we’ve all done it – trundling turgidly along behind a somnolent Sunday driver when you’re in a hurry to get to a football match or concert; and when there is finally a gap to overtake, you look in your mirror to find that you’re not alone in that muse and that you are, in fact, suddenly at Le Mans.
A9 has not been fit for purpose for decades
I tend to keep my politics to myself, but they’re eminently sensible and, in honesty, I don’t see the issue with the A9 as the problem of any particular government, Scottish or otherwise. Holyrood and Westminster have been run by myriad parties in my lifetime, and I couldn’t honestly lay the blame for the A9 conundrum on any particular rosette.
I think it has been shelved down the years because it’s such a huge, unwieldy and expensive project. But, in doing that, a large nose has been thumbed to the people of the Highlands of Scotland, and also the tourists whose pounds are relied upon in Inverness and beyond every year.
I’d have to award 10 out of 10 to local SNP MSP Fergus Ewing for calling out his own party on the issue, and with some invective
I can’t imagine the angst visitors must feel as their Highland holiday ends and the wonderful experiences they’ve had are suddenly tempered with the apprehension of the return journey down the awful A9.
I’d have to award 10 out of 10 to local SNP MSP Fergus Ewing for calling out his own party on the issue, and with some invective, when it emerged that the 2025 target for dualling was not going to be met. And he’s quite right.
There have been several accidents over the festive period, and weather incidents which saw hundreds of motorists stranded. The road is not fit for purpose and hasn’t been for decades.
Our priorities are in the wrong place
I will always take the train before the car, unless I have absolutely no option. And, as a part-time driver, I fully understand why the M77 and M74 extensions were built: they carry thousands of vehicles in and out of Glasgow every day.
The new Queensferry Crossing was required because the old Forth Road Bridge was creaking with overuse, as was the Kincardine Bridge.
The A92 to and from Aberdeen was dualled lang syne, and understandably so, given the huge amount of commercial traffic bringing labour and capital to the epicentre of Scotland’s oil and gas industry.
But is the Cross Tay Link Road more important than the A9? Does the Fair City need a three-span bridge over its silvery river?
Does the new road between Barrhead and Newton Mearns have priority over the A9? Does Glasgow need another bridge across the Clyde when it already has several – and a tunnel?
Really? At a time when lives are being put in danger every hour of every day on Scotland’s highway of shame? Come on.
If I am spared, I will be 70 in 2035 when the road is predicted to be finally dualled. Seventy! That will be more than 50 years – half a century – since I first made that tentative journey in my first car.
That it will take that length of time to upgrade what is, without question, a lifeline route is a national disgrace.
Mike Edwards OBE was the face of the evening news on STV for more than 25 years and is a published author, a charity trustee and a serving Army Reservist