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Caithness News Bulletins February 2004

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Transport Minister Nicol Stephen today said work on the first phase of a major 12 million upgrade of the A9 from Helmsdale to Ord of Caithness is expected to begin in late spring, subject to statutory procedures being completed.

Mr Stephen said the upgrade would improve access and would be completed in two phases, with the first section from Allt Briste North to North of Ord of Caithness to start soon.

The Minister today visited Helmsdale with local MSP Jamie Stone and local MP John Thurso to look at the upgrade route and to examine calls for a footway link on the A9. He also visited Tain, announcing the Executive would improve road markings at the Tain Bypass to enhance junction safety.

Mr Stephen said: "This is a very significant investment in the Caithness section of the A9.  The 12 million upgrade will create a major section of road and widen other parts of the carriageway. This will improve access to the northern ports and have an impact on road safety.

Red Route - Off-line Lower Valley Route

"Phase One of the upgrade will involve a new section of road at Attl Briste North, a new climbing lane and widen 3 km of carriageway. This is very good news for local businesses, the local community and the many visitors to the Caithness area who use this stretch of road.

"The Tain Bypass improvements will ensure road markings are clearer and safer for drivers using the junction. Road safety is a top priority for the Executive and I am also pleased to see the improvements on the A9 at North Kessock junction are now operating effectively.

"We are also investing in rail services in the Highlands. The Executive has awarded more than 1 million to Highland Council to provide three-year pilot rail commuter services from Kingussie and Aviemore to Inverness and Tain which began in January this year.

"The Executive has also provided two freight facility grants totalling 1.5 million to Safeway to supply its retail outlets via rail at Inverness, Elgin, Buckie, Wick, Nairn, Kirkwall, Ullapool and Thurso. By improving local commuter rail services and funding rail freight grants, we are helping to get lorries and cars off the most congested roads in the Highlands."

The A9 upgrade works will be mainly funded from the Executive's Transport Budget, with additional money expected from European funding. The upgrade on the A9 between Helmsdale and Ord of Caithness will be in two phases. Phase One runs from Allt Briste North to North of Ord of Caithness as part of the northern section. Phase Two runs from East Helmsdale to Allt Briste North as part of the southern section. Firms will tender for the Phase One works in March with work expected to start in late spring subject to completion of statutory procedures.

Phase One, which is estimated to cost 6.5 million, comprises mainly of on-line widening of some 3 km of existing road. It includes an off-line section at Allt Briste North, where a new culvert, farm underpass and embankment across the valley will be built, and a 600-metre section of climbing lane to improve overtaking opportunities constructed. One metre hard strips flanking the carriageway have been incorporated in the design to reflect comments from the cycling lobby.

Phase Two, which is estimated to cost 5.5 million, would be mainly off-line and would remove the tortuous bends and ease the steep gradients between Helmsdale and Allte Briste North. Draft Road Orders and an Environmental Statement are expected to be published for Phase Two in spring. It is expected that the contract for work will be awarded in Autumn 2005, subject to the completion of statutory procedures.

Invernet builds on the existing timetable and will provide commuter services from Kingussie and additional trains north of Inverness to meet the growing demand for local rail services. Funding for Invernet came from the Executive's Public Transport Fund.

Under the Government's Freight Facilities Grant (FFG) Scheme, grants are available towards the capital costs of rail and shipping freight equipment in cases where the traffic would otherwise move by road. Awards made in recent years include 300,000 to Thurso Building Supplies who are now transporting building materials from central Scotland to Thurso by rail rather than road. In addition we have awarded Track Access Grant worth up to 143,000 to assist in the movement by rail of timber from Kinbrace in Sutherland to Inverness. This project unlocks previously inaccessible timber resources.

February 2003 - Original Proposals and Routes
Timber Extraction - Kinbrace 7 December 2001