I welcome any opportunity to debate Scotland’s transport infrastructure, so I am grateful to Miles Briggs for lodging his motion on improving Edinburgh’s city bypass.
The bypass is unquestionably one of the most important trunk roads in Scotland. It circles the south side of Edinburgh, enabling access from one end of our capital to the other, and, crucially, it links the city to key routes to the rest of Scotland and the north of England. Although there have been improvements such as the Dalkeith bypass and lane widening at Sheriffhall, it is fair to say that the A720 has remained largely unaltered since its construction in the 1980s. It has not really adapted to either Edinburgh’s growing population or its rising visitor numbers, which has impacted adversely on the economy of the city and indeed Scotland as a whole.
Recent studies imply that parts of the bypass are among the most congested stretches of trunk road anywhere in the United Kingdom, and the Scottish Government’s figures suggest that that will get worse, with an anticipated 20,000 more vehicles using the bypass per day within 20 years. As a result, there have been long-standing calls for major improvements, not least at Sheriffhall—a place name that sends a shudder down the spine of any commuter into Edinburgh who tunes into the traffic news first thing in the morning.
I hope that, when the minister sums up, he will update the Parliament on what progress is being made in moving forward the planned upgrade at the Sheriffhall junction from choice of preferred option to an actual timetable for construction, and whether there is an option to bring the project forward. I also hope that he will outline, as Colin Beattie asked, what improved opportunities there will be for cyclists and indeed pedestrians as a result of the Sheriffhall proposals, including whether road-segregated cycle routes will be built into approach roads and all six axes of the junction, as that is unclear.
There have been calls for the use of smart motorway technology—which Jamie Greene mentioned—to allow, for example, the hard shoulder on the bypass to be used at peak times. Again, I hope that, when he sums up, the minister will update members on whether there has been an assessment of that proposal, which would replicate the use of the smart motorway system on the M42 near Birmingham, in relation to both whether it would reduce congestion and what the safety implications would be if such a scheme was implemented.
In the past, an Edinburgh orbital bus route has been proposed to help to take cars off the bypass. In 2012, feasibility studies were undertaken to ascertain how a route from the end of the Forth road bridge to Queen Margaret University via the A720 would function.