Have a Heart – give us an Elgin bypass and dual the A96
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NOT in my lifetime – an Elgin bypass looks a million miles away.
It is a pessimistic outlook, I know, but the reality is that there has been little progress over the last two decades and longer.
We are 20 years down the road (excuse the pun) since The Northern Scot launched an Elgin Bypass Campaign, with support from Moray Trades Union Council, Moray Chamber of Commerce, Moray Council, and others.
Yes, there have been strategic reviews, assessments and consultations galore, and the issue of an Elgin bypass remains part of a wider review of the A96 dualling project.
However, you can't help feeling that a bypass for Elgin is a can that has been well and truly kicked down the road.
Our editor 20 years ago, Pauline Taylor, believed passionately that Elgin's "clogged arteries" needed major surgery and only a bypass would achieve that.
"Have a Heart – Give us a Bypass" was the slogan and people rallied behind it.
In January 2002, Pauline called on Moray's fighting spirit when she said: "We are not suggesting that Moray emulates our ancestors and resorts to violence in a fight to get a bypass for Elgin but we do believe the people should join The Northern Scot now in a campaign to secure the only solution to traffic congestion in the area's capital.
"When life is threatened by a clogged artery, surgery is the only answer."
I was installed as secretary of the campaign and chief story writer for the newspaper.
The column inches accumulated over a period of years, the pressure ramped up on successive Transport Ministers, and momentum seemed to be heading in the right direction.
The Transport Minister at that time, Lib-Dem Tavish Scott, visited Elgin at the invitation of the campaign.
A petition containing 8,000 signatures was presented to the Scottish Government at Holyrood.
Six years later, the then SNP Transport Minister Stewart Stevenson visited and met community and business leaders.
Richard Lochhead MSP described the issue of a bypass and upgrading of the A96 as "make or break" for the economy at that time.
Traffic flow figures from 2001 showed that there were 19,500 daily traffic movements through Elgin – twice the volume recorded in Pitlochry which was bypassed in the 1970s.
The campaign was vocal, high-profile and unifying – however, it did not achieve its stated aim at the time.
Fast forward to 2023 and, to be honest, it feels right now as if Elgin is as far away from getting the bypass it so badly needs as it has ever been.
The sad thing is that the Elgin Bypass Campaign launched by The Scot in 2002 was not the first time that a call for a bypass had been made.
Indeed, the idea of a bypass was first mooted 60 years before that.
The 'solution' to Elgin's growing traffic congestion was Alexandra Road - which is an inner relief road that brings little relief at peak times, and was itself 45 years in the planning.
Heavy lorries rumble through the centre of Elgin, close to residential properties, a hospital, schools and residential home.
Quite where an Elgin bypass would be built now is open to speculation as the exceptional rate of housing development to the south – the preferred option 20 years ago – and north of the town must have clouded the issue of precisely where the road would go.
A bypass for Elgin is intrinsically linked to the wider campaign for dualling of the A96 in its entire length from Inverness to Aberdeen.
The community of Keith is another which has to bear the burden of heavy traffic passing through its centre along the A96.
Dualling of the A9 is the focus of another campaign by our sister paper The Inverness Courier, which is set to hold a crisis summit involving politicians,and pressure is mounting on the Scottish Government to start delivering on promises made.