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Transport / Passing buses used to highlight ‘glaring lack of space’ on Levenwick road

A blue bus driving down a road.

PHOTOS of two buses passing each other have been used to support the case for the full widening of the A970 road at Levenwick.

Jacklyn Smith, who previously worked as a driver for Cunningsburgh based bus company JA & GD Nicolson, said there is “no room for error” on the road and a “glaring lack of space” between vehicles.

“With no hard shoulder and the immediate verge being very soft, larger vehicles don’t stand a chance,” she said.

The A970 above Levenwick, the main link to the south end, is second on the priority list of Shetland Islands Council’s major road upgrades behind Cullivoe in Yell.

Jacklyn Smith.

Shetland South councillor Allison Duncan has repeatedly called the section of road, which has an embankment on its east side, a “death trap”.

While the final go-ahead for an upgrade has yet to be given, councillors previously backed a preferred option worth an estimated £5 million to widen the road from 5.4 metres to 6.8 metres and then install barriers on the east verge.

The section is one of the narrowest sections of a two-lane road in Shetland, with its width below current design standards of 6.8 metres.

But last week members were advised that due to changes in barrier design and guidance a previously discounted option to install barriers and improve the blind summit was now a potential solution which could be considered in more detail.

This would cost “significantly less” than the preferred option to widen the road.

Members were told, however, that this work could potentially be designed in a way to enable the widening still to take place in the future.

Roads manager Neil Hutcheson said the barrier and blind summit option could enable work to begin sooner.

Councillors also agreed to ask officers to look into imposing an interim 50mph limit until improvements are made to the road.

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However, this news was not well received by some in the community, with Smith saying that a 50mph limit would in “no way benefit larger vehicles, as these are already forced to do much less”.

She said the problem is when two large vehicles, such as buses or lorries and trucks, have to pass each other.

Meanwhile in 2015 a truck carrying a digger rolled down the embankment, thankfully with no injuries.

“Although Levenwick is the main focus, the reality is that parts of the road from north Levenwick right through to Robin’s Brae is in dire need of either widening or at the very least, a hard shoulder,” Smith added.

Photos of two 2.85m buses passing show little room, and the driver said that most trucks were even larger.

“The road below and at the blind summit is 2.6m on one side and 2.5m on the other, the road at the Vatchley is 2.7m on one side and 2.5m on the other. An overall width of just over 5m – you do the maths,” Smith said.

She added that previous accidents on the road have included large vehicles, and claimed they have been the result of the lack of width, and the absence of a hard shoulder.

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage last week appeared to speak up for the idea of having another look at the preferred option following the change in advice around crash barriers.

He believed extensive widening was not required at this moment in time as he felt a 50mph limit could increase road safety, while Armitage also noted the potential cost savings.

Shetland South councillor Alex Armitage.

But speaking this week, the Green councillor agreed that for large vehicles width is an issue across the entire stretch of road.

“Senior council officials have previously reassured me that the Levenwick road is safe, but local bus drivers had identified to me one particular point on the road, at the blind summit, where the road was too narrow for large vehicles passing and therefore needed widening,” he said.

“This is why I have been advocating for a scale back version of the Levenwick road improvements, focusing on widening that particular section, installing crash barriers and a 50mph limit, which seemed to me to be the most effective way to reduce road danger in a way that can be achieved in the short term, given the significant constraints on the council’s resources.”

But Armitage said having seen the bus photos and Smith’s views on the matter, “it is clear to me that there is perilously little room for large vehicles to pass each other” not just for the blind summit but for most of the A970 from the north Levenwick junction to Robin’s Brae in Dunrossness.

“Whilst a 50mph limit will reduce road danger for smaller vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians, it’s clear that for wider vehicles road width is the key issue,” he added.

“I am meeting with a local constituent who is a truck driver tomorrow to discuss this issue in more detail, and to see the road from their perspective. I will be taking up this issue with the SIC roads department.”

Meanwhile fellow ward councillor Robbie McGregor said he still believes the project should be “undertaken in full” but recognises that “with the current constraints and priorities this is a step down the road”.

“I remain convinced that when funds permit the full project should be carried out,” he said.

Duncan, who was involved in an accident himself in the area a few years back, said he remains steadfast in his support for the full widening of the road.

He said he will continue to press for the full upgrade to the benefit of not only South Mainland residents but everyone who uses the road, given that is the main link to Sumburgh Airport.

“I will pursue it religiously to the best of my ability until that work is completed,” Duncan said.

The councillor also said there had been reports of an instance of wing mirrors hitting off each other when two vehicles were passing.

Meanwhile the estimated cost of the proposed upgrade of the road into Cullivoe sits now at £9.9 million.

With finances tight, councillors have been warned about the need to prioritise capital projects.

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