After the Skye Bridge… ministers plan a Mull crossing

Ministers have revealed plans to create bridges or tunnels between islands communities including from Scotland’s mainland and Mull to “improve communities access to goods and services”. A new plan seeks to replace ferries with the fixed links 26 years after the opening of the Skye bridge was mired in controversy. For decades islanders had called for a road bridge from the mainland as growing visitor numbers put a strain on the ferry that ran between Kyle of Lochalsh and Kyleakin.

But the cost of the bridge’s tolls sparked outrage. Car drivers were charged up to GBP5.20 each way, compared to 40p on the Forth Road Bridge. Protesters claimed this made the Skye crossing the most expensive road toll in Europe.

Now net zero, energy and transport secretary Michael Matheson has unveiled a plan that could see another crossing to Mull, which has been hit with ferry disruption.   A bridge from Oban to the nearest community on Mull would be around ten miles long. He also talks of a plan of a fixed link between North and South Uist and Lewis and Harris.

Another bridge or tunnel could link Barra and the Uists. He said: “That could improve communities access to goods and services, making these islands more attractive for people to live and work in and visit.” The plans are amongst 45 recommendations in the second Strategic Transport Projects Review which ministers say seek to make Scotland “more sustainable and support people to make better, more informed choices on how they travel.

Transport Scotland said: “When implemented, the changes and measures will play a key role in helping to make the country fairer and greener – by tackling tackle climate change, reducing inequalities and improving our health and wellbeing.” Recommendations also involve a multi-billion-pound Clyde Metro which would connect the city centre with eight surrounding local authorities.

Transport Scotland said that when complete it could “better connect over 1.5 million people to employment, education and health services in and around the Glasgow city region”. Plans for Edinburgh & South East Scotland Mass Transit and Aberdeen Rapid Transit will also be developed. According to the review analysis the moves for bridges or tunnels have come as current ferry routes on the Sound of Harris, Sound of Barra and between Craignure on Mull and Oban face a “number of issues and challenges”.

It says: “Replacing ferry services with fixed links bridges or tunnel can improve reliability, connectivity, capacity and crossing times. “A Sound of Harris fixed link would improve connectivity between the Uists and Lewis/Harris while a Sound of Barra fixed link would improve connectivity between Barra and the Uists. “The provision of these fixed links would allow for the reconfiguration of transport provision between the Outer Hebrides and the mainland.

“The provision of a fixed link between Mull and the Scottish mainland would allow for the reconfiguration of transport provision between the island and the mainland.” Further work is now to be undertaken on business cases to better understand the benefits, costs and challenges associated with these options. The analaysis said the studies would “consider the feasibility of replacing existing ferry services” currently delivered by CalMac as part of the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) contract.

The analysis added: “These studies would also ascertain the potential savings associated with the public sector subsidies required to operate the ferry services and involve input from communities that may potentially be affected.” Ministers have also set out a hope to improve active travel infrastructure by encouraging more people to walk, wheel and cycle more often and therefore cut carbon emissions and improve health and well-being, particularly of children, while supporting sustainable economic growth. It set out a plan to develop a net zero freight and logistics network for Scotland “that would encourage the switch from road to rail or water and reduce the overall distance travelled, including a review of rail freight terminals hubs”.

Transport Scotland said: “These investments will help reduce overall demand for private vehicles; improve accessibility to employment, education, healthcare and leisure amenities; and strengthen strategic transport connections to, from and within rural areas, as well as across the UK.”




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