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Department of Technical Services

Spinal Route

Spinal Route

Bridges, Causeways and Ferries

Introduction

Many outlying islands have lost their people over the past 150 years as the difficulties of living in isolation from the rest of the world grew - but after the creation of the separate council for the Western Isles (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) in 1975, there was a growing and direct commitment to save the remaining islands.

Economic development - bringing jobs and hope - is seen as crucial to the survival of the Western Isles as a living community. Key to further economic development is improved transport links - with more than £30 million spent on major projects by different agencies over the last decade.

These have included the bridge to Scalpay, the causeways to Berneray and Eriskay, new ferry terminals at Stornoway and Leverburgh, and new car ferries on the routes between Harris and the Uists and from the mainland to Barra and Stornoway.

But the key to economic survival on the islands is seen as developing the islands' ability to supply themselves through an internal market created by the north-south Spinal Route.

1942 - 1990

The first link to be completed was an 82 span South Ford Bridge from Benbecula to South Uist, completed in 1942.

This was followed by the pioneering bridge to Great Bernera from Lewis opened in 1953. This was the first prestressed concrete girder road bridge in the UK.

Next came the five-mile North Ford Causeway from Benbecula to North Uist, opened in 1960. This remains the longest causeway in the Western Isles.

In 1962 the Baleshare Causeway was opened.

In 1983 a new two-lane causeway was built to replace the South Ford Bridge, which was decaying because of damage to the concrete from the sea and wind.

1990 - 2000

In 1990, a causeway was opened linking Vatersay to Barra, enabling the population fall on Vatersay to be reversed.

Over the years after 1975, a series of improvements had been made to ferry services to offshore Islands had been made, bringing car ferries to Eriskay, Scalpay and Berneray. In 1996 the Sound of Harris Car Ferry service began, linking Harris directly with North Uist.

In late 1997, the Scalpay Bridge came into use, almost nine months prior to its official opening in September 1998.

December 1998 saw the first crossing by car of the new Berneray Causeway, followed by its formal opening in April 1999.

Construction work on the Eriskay Causeway began in May 2000 and was completed in July 2001.

Road Projects

Investment in the Western Isles Spinal route has seen around £14 million spent on major road schemes over the past 15 years alone ­ although there has been a slowdown in work over recent years as money was diverted to the major causeway and bridge projects.

In addition to the main road projects, which have formed about an extra 30 kilometres of high standard double track road through often very difficult terrain, there have been many smaller maintenance schemes to resurface roads, straighten out corners, improve safety standards and so on. The main schemes have been spread throughout the Island chain to try to bring benefits to people all over the Islands.

In 1984 more than three kilometres of road were built at a cost of £752,000 at Bornish in South Uist, while another 3.5 kilometres were completed further south at Askernish in 1988-90. Meanwhile work costing £798,000 was also taking place in 1989 to create more than two kilometres of road in north Harris on the approach to the pass near the Clisham mountain and 1991-4 saw extensive road building works on the spinal route in Harris, North Uist and also in Lewis, at Borve and Barvas.

The most recent project ­ costing £750,000 ­ created 1.3 kilometres of new road south from the South Ford causeway into South Uist.