Avon Gorge upgrade still on cards but not for at least another two years

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The suitability of the road through the Avon Gorge for the volume of traffic using the route has been an ongoing issue for many years now.

Thousands of vehicles use the route on a daily basis, including many HGVs, making the journey between the Falkirk and Bathgate areas.

With the busy road currently closed to allow emergency repair works to be carried out after cracks were discovered in the carriageway, it has once again raised questions over the future of the gorge.

Locals know that the issue of upgrading the road, which takes in two council areas – Falkirk and West Lothian – has been a long running saga.

However despite discussions between transport chiefs at both local authorities and the Scottish Government, motorists are still waiting for the replacement road to be created.

And it looks like their wait is set to continue as current plans will not see work start until around 2020/21.

Read the latest on the Avon Gorge’s emergency closure

Angus MacDonald, MSP for Falkirk East, explained: “The Avon Gorge has, for as long as I can remember, been something which has been on the cards for upgrade. In fact as far back as the 1920s the Torphichen Bridge was described as ‘unfit for the horse and cart’.

“But with transportation having evolved somewhat since then, and the recent closure highlighting just how important this transport link is between the M8 and M9 corridors, it’s only right that we look to the Scottish Government and the two local authorities in Falkirk and West Lothian to try and bring forward a solution.

“I have been able to highlight the situation in the Avon Gorge with several Transport Ministers in my time as an MSP and works are scheduled to begin in 2020/21 – however I have asked on several 
occasions for this to be brought forward.”

Mr MacDonald said he highlighted the issue most recently in parliament following the emergency closure and he has had confirmation from Transport Minister Humza Yousaf that officials at Transport Scotland have been instructed to “begin dialogue” with officials at the local authorities to see what steps can be taken to revisit the business case.

He added: “As much as I realise the frustrations of commuters, businesses and hauliers that movement towards a new crossing at the Avon Gorge has been slow, I am confident that with communication channels now being open we will soon see a solution being found which will benefit all motorists using this important route.”

A look back through the Herald archives shows the two councils have drawn up plans for the two mile ‘missing link’ between Bowhouse roundabout and Westfield roundabout including a new bridge up stream of the exisiting crossing.

And in December 2008 it was reported that the road was one of 29 major transport investment projects included in the Scottish Government’s Strategic Transport Projects Review.

All parties – Falkirk and West Lothian Councils and Transport Scotland – confirmed this week that discussions into the upgrade are continuing. However it seems the real difficulty lies with finding funding.

A spokesman for Falkirk Council said: “A contribution to the works to upgrade the Avon Gorge is contained within our Tax Incremental Finance programme for 2021-2023.

“Discussions are continuing with Transport Scotland and West Lothian Council to confirm arrangements for the remainder of the funding necessary to complete the project.”

While a spokesman for the West Lothian authority said it “remains committed” to a bridge crossing the gorge.

“We have a commitment in principle to provide capital programme funding for the A801 Avon Gorge bridge crossing,” he said.

“We estimate West Lothian’s 25 per cent share of the overall project would be around £8 million, with Falkirk also contributing 25 per cent and the Scottish Government providing 50 per cent.

“Transport Scotland have previously indicated that the earliest they could fund this project is 2020/2021, and the project cannot progress until an agreed funding package is in place between all partners.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We recognise the importance of the A801 to communities and businesses in Falkirk and West Lothian areas, as well as its strategic importance in linking the docks at Grangemouth with the industrial and distribution facilities along the M8 corridor.

“The Scottish Government has approved a Tax Incremental Financing business case from Falkirk Council to contribute towards the cost of this scheme in 2013, with the remainder of funding to come from West Lothian Council and the Scottish Government.

“We are continuing to engage with both councils and have recently met with the local authorities to establish a programme for a review of Falkirk Council’s business case and the next steps towards the delivery of improvements at this location.”