Transport Scotland has previously refused to provide access for a historic route across the newly dualled carriageway at Crubenmore, just south of Newtonmore. But now it is planning to construct an underpass.
The government agency’s change of heart follows an intervention by Salmond during the election. He told campaigners he shared their concerns and, if re-elected, would instruct officials to go-ahead with a crossing.
Transport Scotland said it was now determining the feasibility of building an underpass with a view to bringing forward the necessary road orders. “It is expected this work could be completed by mid-August,” said a spokeswoman for the agency.
It may take another two years, though, until the crossing is actually built. Officials met with representatives of walking and horse-riding groups on Friday to discuss what was required.
According to Dave Morris, the director of Ramblers Scotland, it was a “productive meeting”. He was “very pleased” that the government had changed its mind after Salmond had met with Ramblers Scotland convenor and former MSP, Dennis Canavan.
“Officials were clearly acting on the First Minister's instructions to investigate the action needed to build an underpass at Crubenmore and we had discussions about the detailed design and location requirements, all of which seemed satisfactory,” said Morris.
“There is an intention to construct an underpass, or bridge if this proves to be a better alternative, which will fully meet the needs of walkers, cyclists and horseriders and comply with disability requirements.”
Ruaridh Ormiston, who runs Newtonmore Riding Centre, also welcomed the discussions on a new underpass. He was disappointed, though, that it had taken eight months and the intervention of Salmond to reach this stage.
He said: “Earlier discussions would have ensured that an underpass was included in the current works. It will not be ready when the new dual carriageway opens this August so some interim arrangement will need to be made.”
Countryside access groups were angry that the dualling of the A9 barred them from following one of the old military roads built by General Wade to control the Jacobites in the early 1700s. The route crosses the A9, and has been popular with pony-trekkers, cyclists and walkers.
“It is vitally important that these ancient routes are preserved and kept safe for future generations to enjoy,” said Candy Cameron, from the British Horse Society. "It would be irresponsible of us to allow them to be closed forever by barriers like the new A9 dual carriageway at Crubenmore.”
In March campaigners unveiled plans for an escalating series of protests on the A9 this summer which would have delayed motorists. But now an underpass has been promised, the protests have been called off.
A spokesman for Alex Salmond confirmed that he had instructed Transport Scotland to undertake further survey work “with a view to promoting new road orders that include establishing an underpass.”
He added: “Furthermore, in making a final decision about the A9 at Crubenmore the Scottish government, and indeed Transport Scotland, will consult with all interested parties, including the Ramblers.”