ROAD experts are in a race against time to find solutions after it was claimed that 100,000 tonnes of debris is waiting to fall on one of Scotland’s key road.
The Scottish Government’s transport agency’s route manager Neil MacFarlane gave the warning about the latest movement as he told community leaders in the area that 2020 saw 20,000 tonnes fall onto the infamous A83 at the Rest and be Thankful – double what has fallen in nearly two decades.
Now it has emerged Transport Scotland is looking at 12 options to prevent further calamity from falling debris.
And Mr MacFarlane has said workers from his organisation, as well as staff from the Transport Scotland’s maintenance contractor Bear Scotland, will be staying on site for years.
It comes as the infamous A83 at Rest and be Thankful was being brought back into action last month as part of a strategy that was to see the the main road used during the day when weather conditions permit.
During the night-time, the single track alternative route, the Old Military Road (OMR) was to be used, which also is run through a single file convoy system, where drivers are escorted along the route.
The important Highlands route had been till then been barely open for three weeks in the previous five months since a landslip brought about by rain blocked the road in August. Drivers have faced 59-mile diversions when both routes are closed.
£80m ‘wasted’ over multiple failed fixes to iconic A83 Rest and Be Thankful
Before the A83 re-opening on Friday, Bear said a debris fence had been completed on hillside above A83 to provide further protection to road users.
They were also adding further protection for the OMR through a £1m barrier which would provide “additional protection” to motorists during hours of darkness.
Mr MacFarlane gave the warning after local councillors asked whether there was an estimated time on when the road would fully re-open.
Mr MacFarlane said: “I don’t know if this is common knowledge, but it can be shared. In the last 19 years or so, there have been about 10,000 tonnes of material moved off the hill on to the road.
“Last year alone, there was 20,000 tonnes – so that is double everything that’s happened in the previous 19 years, in one year.
“At the moment, there are 100,000 tonnes on the move on the hill. We are looking at 12 options in a short timescale.
New bridges or tunnels could end A83 Rest and be Thankful chaos
“We want this to be done by March, because that is the end of the financial year.
“The other milestone we have set ourselves is next winter. What can we do before then to build resilience?
“It is impossible to say when the road will be open again 24/7, or two-way, as we do not know what is happening on the hillside.
““What I can say with certainty is that BEAR Scotland and Transport Scotland will be there for years.”
Construction of the temporary bund to protect the A83’s diversion
Lomond North SNP councillor Iain Paterson raised concerns over whether the current mitigation measures in place would be adequate to deal with the movement on the hillside, particularly in light of the weather conditions.
Mr MacFarlane replied: “Not at the moment, but it is very unlikely 100,000 tonnes will come down in one go. It’s something we have to plan for and it will be looked at.”
Mr MacFarlane said that geological and geotechnical experts were aware of the issues and future planning was ongoing around this.
Discussion of the route and its future took place at a virtual meeting of Helensburgh and Lomond Community Planning Group last week.
The A83 has been closed for safety due to a series of major landslips experienced throughout 2020.
Infamous A83 at Rest and be Thankful shuts for safety reasons three days after re-opening following ‘safety’ barrier installation
Since August most traffic was being convoyed by an official vehicle on the OMR but even that has been frequently shut overnight because of fears that even it could be hit by landslides – leaving motorists with 60-mile detours.
Ministers have previously been accused of wasting nearly £80 million on more than a decade of failed solutions to landslides on the road after the latest multiple slips in heavy rainfall.
Some locals have called for a public inquiry into the problems, with many saying a permanent solution must be found.
In September, Transport Scotland published 11 options for a new route to replace the landslip-prone section of the A83 include building up to three bridges or tunnels. But the choice of solution is not expected till next year.
The new solutions being considered include building new fixed link crossings at Loch Long, Gare Loch and the Firth of Clyde, which also include building a new road in the glen behind the current route.
Others include new crossings from near West Kilbride, North Ayrshire, to Bute via Little Cumbrae, and further crossings either over the Firth of Clyde from Rothesay to Toward, or from Rhubodach to Colintraive. Argyll and Bute Council is among those who have registered their concerns about the way the issues with the A83 have been handled.
Last week the A83 opening hours were extended to 8.15am to 5pm each day with traffic being convoyed through the area when weather conditions allow. All traffic would then be switched to the single-track Old Military Road which runs through the centre of Glen Croe outwith daylight hours.
Transport Scotland said that the 100,000 tonnes, like any landslide-prone area, may now stabilise or experience other movements. The agency said it had installed a further series of additional landslide mitigation measures including an in-channel fence, a debris bund and a new roadside catchpit.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The safety of the travelling public and operating company staff on the A83 Rest and Be Thankful is a key priority, so we are committed to looking at further short and medium term measures to improve the resilience of the route in tandem with the work to identify a permanent solution.
Rest and Be Thankful: Officials confirm there will be no landslide solution for 10 years
“More than £15m has been invested in landslide mitigation work to date, and engineers are developing a programme for further measures to help bolster the resilience of this section of the hillside in the coming financial year. Our operating company, BEAR Scotland, will also continue to monitor and patrol the area in response to forecast conditions, as part of their landslide response plans.
“In the longer term, the Cabinet Secretary has instructed officials to accelerate work to consider alternative infrastructure options for the A83. Eleven corridor options were presented to the public last year with a preferred corridor expected to be identified this spring.”