Business blast over Rest approach – Transport Scotland responds

Multiple landslides at the Rest and Be Thankful shut the A83 in both directions causing major disruption. 51_a41RestLandslide03

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As reported in last week’s edition of the Argyllshire Advertiser, the Rest and Be Thankful Campaign – a group comprising a number of Argyll business leaders – recently sent an open letter to Transport Scotland chief executive Roy Brannen voicing members’ concerns over a lack of immediate action to address the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful.
The letter is published below, followed by Transport Scotland’s response.

Mr Brannen,

You may be aware that after writing to Michael Matheson twice over the past two months we were advised by him to hold a meeting with Jo Blewett, who leads your A83 project team, which we have now done.

The main objective of this meeting was for our group to understand the progress being made by Transport Scotland to deliver a ‘rapid’ solution at the RABT as urged by Michael Matheson in March.

We learned that Transport Scotland is planning three initiatives.

  1. A 10-point plan to build in more resilience and mitigation measures for the old military road (OMR). We feel this is over-complicated. If it is only going to be used for a short while, apart from straightening the bends in the road we would do the minimum to keep it open and save money on further mitigation measures.
  2. To build a medium-term solution with three options along a similar route to the forestry road. We think this should be a temporary solution to remove the safety risk and continued cost of mitigation from landslides on the existing A83. Either upgrade the existing road to two lanes or use it as one lane up and the OMR down. We do not need another adoptable standard road; this is wasting time and money on solutions that should just be temporary.
  3. To build one of five long-term options through Glen Croe. The choice of route should be driven by the data, the safest route given the stability of the ground conditions. We understand that Transport Scotland has not yet evaluated the geology of the glen necessary for any of the routes being considered, which will take three months to tender for a contractor to assess the terrain, despite it being evident this was required months ago. We also learned with utter disbelief that it is going to take 18 months to evaluate the ground conditions before any options are selected then an unbelievable five to 10 years to build. If people using the M74 or M8 were forced to operate a convoy system, which was closed when it rained or sent on an hour’s detour, we would not be waiting three months to appoint people to assess what can be done.

The crisis at the Rest is an economic, social and safety disaster for the area which is not being taken seriously enough by Transport Scotland or the government. We have three questions for you and your management team:

  1. During the last landslide, a bus load of passengers was two cars away from being swept off the road. If the next landslide, or subsequent diversion along the equally inadequate A82, results in a fatality, who will be held accountable?
  2. If the A83 was a business site with the threat of a landslide outside its doors, would it be allowed to operate, or shut down?
  3. Who is responsible for the social and economic impact on the people and businesses of Argyll while we wait another 10 years for something permanent to be done?

All we are asking is to cut through the ‘business as usual’ approach and appoint someone who can build 2km of safe road within the next three years, which stays open when it rains.

We would be happy to discuss what can be done to resolve the crisis at the RABT and look forward to hearing from you soon.

John Gurr 

Chair, The Rest and Be Thankful Campaign 

A Transport Scotland spokesman responded:

‘The resilience of the A83 at the Rest and be Thankful has deteriorated over the course of the last year. Between 2007 and mid-2020 we undertook proportionate methods to maintain connectivity. However, the recent situation based on a series of landslides starting in August 2020 has called for further, and more extensive, action.

‘We can assure local residents and road users that the situation is being treated with seriousness and urgency with measures to maintain connectivity through the glen being expedited on a short, medium and long-term basis to provide increasing levels of service.

‘Along with continuous monitoring of the hillside, the short term mitigation works have ensured that the A83 was open during daylight hours for the majority of the period between January 8 and April 5. Since then, the A83 has been run on a 24-hour-a-day basis on all but one day, when heavy rainfall resulted in traffic being diverted to the OMR as a precaution for the evening and overnight.

‘The term “emergency” has been used by the group to explore if further powers would be available to bypass some of the standard processes. Whilst we do not think there are any particular powers available in that context, we made a commitment, as part of the preferred route corridor announcement last month, to continue to explore ways of reducing the timescales to bring forward both the medium term and long term routes, while continuing to maximise the availability of the A83 and the OMR.

‘We note and understand the group’s view of timescales for delivering routes which is why we are proposing a medium-term route and examining options in and around the forestry track on land owned by Scottish ministers along with potential upgrades of the OMR. Depending on the consents required, those proposals could be finalised in 18 months.

‘The development work is data-driven, without which we are unable to satisfy ourselves that the proposals will be safe. As was made clear at the recent meeting with Mr Gurr, we have concerns over the safety of the temporary option suggested by the group and further data collection in the coming months will allow us to make an assessment of the work that would be required to bring that up to a safe standard. We can then benchmark that option against others we are developing.’

In response to the campaign group’s three questions, the Transport Scotland spokesman replied:

  1. Transport Scotland is responsible for the operation and management of the trunk road network on behalf of the Scottish ministers. As part of the £87m invested in maintaining the A83 since 2007, we have spent over £15m in landslide measures at the Rest and Be Thankful. In order to mitigate the socio-economic impact caused by the frequent landslide events at the Rest, a number of preventative measures were implemented between 2010 and 2014 including upgrading culverts and the installation of 20 debris flow barriers, four rockfall barriers and one catchpit. A review on the impact of the road closures due to landslides at the Rest and be Thankful also resulted in the creation of a local diversion route along the OMR to provide a short-term alternative route in the event of road closures due to landslides. This route has been used when required and safe to do so since 2014. The design and construction of supplementary mitigation measures to bolster resilience is ongoing. Since August 2020, engineers have installed a number of further mitigation measures adjacent to the A83, including debris fences, roadside pits and debris barriers. Drainage improvements on the hillside have helped stabilise the slopes within the most affected area. These measures helped to keep the A83 open during daylight hours for the majority of the period between January 8 and April 5, with the provision of a 175m long HESCO bund adjacent to the OMR to allow traffic flow to be maintained during the hours of darkness. Since April 5 the A83 has been run on a 24-hour-a-day basis on all but one day, when heavy rainfall resulted in traffic being diverted to the OMR as a precaution for the evening and overnight. Between January and mid-April the protection afforded by these measures, with extensive monitoring and assessment of the hillside, meant that the A83 and OMR remained in operation for all but eight occasions – five partial or whole nights and three partial or whole days – meaning that traffic did not have to use the diversion route between Inveraray and Crianlarich. Any liability relating to the trunk road network is established on a case by case basis, and is very much dependant on the circumstances associated with any incident that occurs.
  2. We have set out above how we are managing the A83 to allow some corridor connectivity. The alternative would be to rely on other trunk road routes.
  3. We have explained the actions we are taking to safely maintain traffic within the A83 corridor to mitigate such losses.

PICS:

One of the mitigation measures recently introduced has been a protective bund beside the old military road. no_a04RestBund01

There have been a number of landslides since this one in August 2020, but slips have been commonplace over the past two decades. 51_a34Rest01