Estimated construction costs of delivering the connection range from between £42m and £50m for the lowest cost bridge option through to £66m - £108m for a tunnel option.
Construction of a fixed link to replace the long-established ferry service is a viable proposition from an engineering, planning and economic perspective that deserves more detailed examination and costing, the feasibility study found. The work, which was carried out by consultant Stantec, was jointly funded by regional transport partnership HITRANS, Highland Council and Highlands & Islands Enterprise.
The partners believe the fixed link would dramatically improve connectivity between Nether Lochaber and Ardgour, on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, and provide improved access to services and employment opportunities for those living in Ardnamurchan, Morvern and also Mull. At the same time, it would reduce travel time and remove the need for travellers to pay ferry charges.
Members of the Board of HITRANS, meeting via video conference, were told there are no ‘showstopper’ issues preventing the construction of a fixed link. Significantly, the costs of a fixed link are not out of step with a continued ferry service, particularly when set against the range of benefits of a fixed link.
Stantec examined a total of 72 scenarios, including an option for a tunnel to the south of the ferry route; as well as routes for bridging the narrows. These were set against the costs of enhancing the existing ferry provision.
Three options for a fixed link remain on the table, namely the tunnel option; a bridge to be constructed along the existing ferry route and a bridge to be constructed along a central corridor, to the south of the ferry route.
The cost estimates are beyond the resources of the Highland Council, which runs the ferry service, and therefore Transport Scotland is to be approached to support the funding. The project is seen as being of strategic importance to the Scottish economy and meeting the goals of the new National Transport Strategy.
Councillor Allan Henderson, Chair of HITRANS and Vice-Convener of the Highland Council, said: “The Corran Ferry is the second busiest route in Scotland, providing a lifeline service to the remote communities of Ardnamurchan, Morvern and Mull. The current service, operated with an ageing vessel and limited crew numbers, is no longer sustainable as demand increases, so we need to consider the best option for upgrading the crossing of the Narrows. Doing nothing is not an option. I am very pleased that the feasibility study has demonstrated the viability of a fixed link, which will be a huge benefit to local residents - reducing their travel time and removing the need to pay significant ferry fares. From the estimated costs, it is clear that the Council will need the Scottish government to recognise this infrastructure as part of the delivery of the new National Transport Strategy that delivers for all communities in every part of Scotland and turn our hopes for a fixed link into reality. Residents can be assured we will all be pressing home our strong case for investment.”