Construction firms may be feeling the pinch of struggling housing and commercial markets, but current planned transportation infrastructure investments at least provide a light at the end of the tunnel.
Although the construction industry is currently in a much-publicized slump throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK, some solace can be found in the fact that the recent Strategic Transport Projects review has resulted in an unprecedented programme of major works across Scotland, including the largest infrastructure project currently under construction, the extension of the M74 in Glasgow to connect with the M8. Meanwhile, the planned second Forth crossing will be the country’s largest infrastructure project in a generation.
“Scotland’s National Transport Strategy has set out three core objectives: improving connectivity, improving access, and reducing emissions,” said Scottish Government spokesman Andrew McIntyre to Construction Scotland. Although the strategy was developed by the previous administration, the current administration agrees with the majority of its contents, with the only major exception being the issue of congestion charging, which we oppose.
“Last December, the administration released the Strategic Transportation Projects review, which highlighted 29 key projects across all modes of transportation for the next 20 years.” Some of the major projects include a new, toll-free Forth Crossing, which will allow the existing bridge to become a public-transport-only corridor, increased electrification of the rail network and enhancements to the Edinburgh-Glasgow line, which will increase frequency and reduce journey times to 35 minutes, and new rail and metro/tram services for both cities, as well as improvements in both road and rail access to many of Scotland’s other major towns and cities.”
Over the next three years, £2.5 billion will be invested, and as part of a 20-year plan, this will obviously increase over time. “The programme is subject to a spending review every three years, so it’s difficult to be too specific about long-term timetable and costing information,” McIntyre says. The current model is to establish key priorities and projects on a continuous basis through regular reviews. The government’s current preferred funding model is a not-for-profit model with private-sector caps.”
One such early key priority was the M74 extension. It recently took a significant step closer to completion when the foundations for its connection to the M8 were laid. ‘While our investment in transport infrastructure will be critical in the sustainable growth of Scotland’s economy for years to come, it is also bringing jobs to the hard-pressed construction industry now,’ said transport minister Stewart Stevenson at the site of the M74/M8 Westbound viaduct.
Transport Scotland’s work alone accounts for more than a quarter of the workload in the civil engineering contracting sector in Scotland. support approximately 900 jobs, many of which are for young trainee professionals gaining valuable experience in their respective professional trades Experience that they can take with them beyond this project and into other projects throughout Scotland. Through this and other major infrastructure projects in Scotland, we are putting our most valuable asset – our people – on a solid footing for the future, while also providing Scotland with long-term economic growth.
The Scottish Government hopes that its transportation policies will benefit more than just the economy and training. According to Mcintyre, Scotland has set the most stringent environmental targets in the world, with a long-term goal of reducing emissions by 80%.
“We’re not just talking about road traffic here, but also emissions from aviation and shipping,” Stevenson continues, “and we recognise the massive challenge this represents.”
“Once we know the magnitude of the emissions, we will be able to offset them elsewhere.”
McIntyre believes that improving existing rail services between Scotland and England, particularly London, is a critical factor in reducing road traffic.
The Scottish Government has welcomed Geoff Hoon’s plans to build a high-speed rail link, and McIntyre believes that such a link would eliminate a significant number of cars from the road.
This appears to be a strong case, as McIntyre points out that improvements to Inverness’ rail accessibility have taken 600 lorries off the A9 to the city, and rail looks set to play a significant role in Scotland’s ongoing transportation infrastructure improvements. When combined with an extensive programme of road improvements around numerous major transportation hubs, such as Aberdeen, Inverness, Perth, and Dundee, the programme appears set to provide much needed employment within the sector, hopefully for a long time after the current downturn ends.
“The programme identifies how we can improve the existing infrastructure we have, as well as targeting future transport investment priorities across Scotland over the next 20 years,” Stevenson concludes.