The M6/M74 is Scotland's main commercial artery. So completing the M74 link in Glasgow is essential, argues Mark Hansford.
Linking Glasgow with London, the Channel Tunnel, Europe and beyond is the M6/M74. And with the West of Scotland accounting for 60% of Scotland's manufactured goods, businesses are heavily reliant on the road to reach their markets.
So it is no surprise that filling two missing links is seen by business groups as vital for the country's economic growth.
The 7.5km extension of the M74 would connect Fullarton Road to the M8 just west of the Kingston Bridge, cost up to £500M and if approved could be ready by 2008. A public inquiry adjourned last week, and Scottish Executive reporters Richard Hickman and Donald Watt, are now assessing the evidence.
The Scottish Executive is promoting the scheme in partnership with Glasgow City Council, South Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire Councils. The Executive says the new section of road will dramatically improve just-in-time delivery, increasing business competitiveness. More than 12,000 jobs could be created as the regenerated area attracts inward investment. It will also create 350 jobs over the three year construction period.
On the English side of the border, statutory procedures for a 9km extension of the M6 from Carlisle to Guardsmill - to eliminate the one remaining non-motorway section - are now underway. This would give the London to Glasgow motorway 'Euroroute' status, critical when tempting manufacturers to locate in Scotland. Contractor Carillion has been appointed to carry out the £65M upgrade, and hopes to start in 2005/06 and complete in 2007/08.
So both schemes seem well developed, and on the Scottish side particularly political interference seems unlikely. The Scots are to a degree well insulated from Chancellor Gordon Brown's meddling with transport budgets, as Brown merely sets an overall budget for Scotland - the Scottish Executive then decides how money is allocated. The Executive is firmly behind the M74 extension, but cuts to the overall Scottish budget cannot be ruled out, as Brown seeks to tighten his grip.
Only last week transport minister Nicol Stephen told a live debate on BBC Radio Scotland that he remained 'utterly committed to maintaining planned levels of expenditure' - and the M74 is just that.
This is enough to give some confidence among businesses and engineers in Scotland that at long last the missing link is to be filled. 'Now we're within striking distance of getting it completed it would be absolute folly for the government to renege at this stage, ' says ICE executive secretary for Scotland Wylie Cunningham.
Environmental objections could be the excuse to axe or delay the M74 extension, if politicians were looking for a way out of funding the project.
The mainly elevated 7.5km extension will be a three-lane motorway with hard shoulders, locally reducing to two lanes with a hard shoulder at the connecting link between the M74 and M8. There will be three full four-way junctions at Fullarton Road, Cambuslang Road and Polmadie Road, with a two-way junction at Kingston.
The inquiry heard from 370 objectors including 41 from people whose businesses or properties are set to be compulsorily purchased. They claim about 11,000 cars would use the extension each day, increasing traffic congestion and pollution.
The Executive disagrees. It says that completing the M74 will reduce traffic in built up areas by 69% and accidents on local roads by 11%.
Cunningham also dismisses the environmental concerns.
'The truth is, engines are most environmentally unfriendly when they are running inefficiently - i. e. stuck in traffic - so if you have a road, it makes sense for it to be as efficient as possible.
'We need these things for industry and the M74 is by far and away the most important road linking Scotland and England. It is such a main artery for commerce - a hell of a percentage of that manufactured in Scotland goes that way - that every time it slows down business and economy slows down.'
Top 10 targets
M1 widening schemes.
A406 London North Circular Road improvements.
London to Scotland high speed rail.
New Mersey Crossing.
New Tyne Tunnel.
East London Line.