Highlands & Islands

Call for speedier upgrade of Berriedale Braes on the A9

lorry on fire on A9 Image copyright john mowatt
Image caption A lorry fire earlier this month resulted in a five hour road closure at the Berriedale Braes

The Scottish Chambers of Commerce (SCC) has called for work to tackle a notorious hairpin bend on the A9 in Caithness to be accelerated.

The Berriedale Braes were the scene of a lorry fire on 5 August which blocked the road for five hours. A 77-mile (124 km) detour was unsuitable for HGVs.

The SCC said accidents were a "frequent occurrence" and adversely affected businesses in the far north and Orkney.

Transport Scotland said a solution to the hairpin was being progressed.

The A9 drops from 150m (492ft) to 20m (65ft) as it enters a valley at the Berriedale Braes.

The A9 provides a link to the far north mainland coast and the ferry services at Scrabster, Gills Bay and John O'Groats to Orkney.

Image copyright Jim Bain/Geograph
Image caption Drivers face steep climbs and descents at the Berriedale Braes

The fire earlier this month destroyed the lorry's tractor unit and trailer, which was carrying rubbish. No-one was injured.

The A9 was closed in both directions between the A897 Dunrobin Street junction and the A99 junction in Latheron.

The diversion put in place was only open to cars.

Liz Cameron, SCC chief executive, said: "On this occasion, HGVs were forced to turn back altogether as the diverted route was not suitable for HGV traffic, accounting for about one in 10 vehicles on the road.

"It is simply unacceptable that road users, businesses, and communities not only in Caithness but also in Orkney, face this level and frequency of disruption to their lives and livelihoods."

She added: "The adverse economic effects of these road closures and detours on businesses in Caithness are significant.

"But with the required investment to upgrade this part of the A9 estimated at approximately £2.5m, a fraction of the overall £3bn set aside for the A9 upgrade programme south of Inverness, this economic disruption could be substantially reduced at a relatively low cost to the taxpayer."

Image copyright Transport Scotland
Image caption The preferred option for the design of the solution to the hairpin bend

The design of the preferred option for tackling Berriedale Braes was published by Transport Scotland in April.

An outline of the final scheme should be released later this year.

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: "While the decision to close roads rests with Police Scotland, we are tackling the particular challenges at Berriedale Braes as a matter of urgency.

"The A9 is a vital arterial route connecting communities across Scotland and we are pressing ahead with unprecedented investment in its upgrade.

"We also appreciate the significant challenges to road users, in particular HGV's, in negotiating the hairpin bend at Berriedale Braes."

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