Unless the government’s Transport Scotland digs a tunnel or builds a bridge at Crubenmore, just south of Newtonmore, it will have “blood on its hands” because people will be killed in accidents attempting to cross a new dual carriageway, they warn.
Walkers, cyclists and horse riders are demanding that politicians commit to constructing a crossing in the next few weeks. Otherwise, they say that on 20 April they will launch a summer of protest walks along the A9 that will cause lengthening delays to traffic.
“If our protests are unsuccessful, I am quite prepared to drive up and down the A9 roadworks all summer with my horse and carriage to show my contempt,” said Ruaridh Ormiston, who runs Newtonmore Riding Centre.
He is furious that dualling the A9 will prevent him from taking pony-trekkers along one of the old military roads built by General Wade to control the Jacobites in the early 1700s. The route is also popular with walkers, cyclists and local people.
Wade’s road crosses the A9 at Crubenmore, and for years large pony-trekking parties have been guided across by police. But now it is being widened to a dual carriageway with central barriers, this will become impossible.
According to Ormiston, the simplest solution is to dig a tunnel, but this has been repeatedly rejected by Transport Scotland as too costly. But a low-tech underpass would only cost £10,000 if it were built now, he argued.
"This trans-Highland route is crucial for local tourism and long distance non-vehicular users and is part of our cultural heritage,” Ormiston told the Sunday Herald. “If somebody is killed trying to cross the dual carriageway here, their blood will be on Transport Scotland’s hands.”
He pointed out that a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Elli Williams, had been tragically killed in January on the A9 dual carriageway near Auchterarder. The teenage son of a friend of his was also killed crossing the A9 near Pitlochry in November.
The case for a crossing at Crubenmore has been backed by Ramblers Scotland, the Cairngorms National Park, the British Horse Society and the Trekking and Riding Society of Scotland. “Transport Scotland is building a modern day version of the Berlin Wall which will split the Highlands apart,” declared David Morris, director of Ramblers Scotland.
"If ministers fail to solve this problem, we expect to exercise to our right to use the Wade road every week through the summer. It is likely to lead to far longer traffic hold-ups than the 10 minutes which are planned for 20 April.”
Morris accused Transport Scotland of behaving like “dinosaurs” and “all powerful Middle East dictators”. He added: “Crubenmore will prove that determined action by local people, outdoor interests and the wider public can persuade politicians to act when civil servants have failed.”
Transport Scotland’s decision to block access across the A9 was described as “unfortunate” by the Cairngorms National Park’s senior access officer, Bob Grant. “The park authority remains keen to assist Transport Scotland in finding a workable solution to this issue,” he said.
The campaigners received some unexpected sympathy from the Road Haulage Association’s Scottish director, Phil Flanders. He pointed out that fatal accidents would cause long and costly delays.
“It would probably be cheaper in the long run to build them a bridge and save all the potential disasters,” he said. But he urged protestors not to block the main road to the Highlands as it could delay innocent travellers and businesses.
Transport Scotland accepted that Wade’s road crossed the A9 at Crubenmore but insisted that there had been no “crossing facility” there before work began to widen it to a dual carriageway in November. “That situation remains unchanged”, it claimed.
“As part of the scheme development, we consulted extensively with a wide range of key stakeholders and interest groups over a number of years, with safety the paramount consideration,” said a Transport Scotland spokeswoman.
“Following a review of those consultation responses and a further review since the start of works in light of local feedback, the decision was taken not to provide a bridge or underpass on this section of the road.”