Option Six has been picked today by Highland councillors as the possible new route for the much awaited Inverness by-pass.
The decision, made by a Highland Council working group, described as the most vital in Inverness for 20 years, will move the project step closer.
The working group, with exception of the SNP, who although are happy with option 6 are discussing it with their group, unanimously viewed option 6 as the most deliverable and affordable of the eight options and they will be recommending that the council supports this when it meets on 1st March to decide the outcome.
The working group also recommended the council take the opportunity to enhance sporting facilities in the Bught/ Torvean area when building the new link road.
Councillor John Laing described option 6 as a "win win" situation and said if it is approved then work could begin within the next three years.
"Time is of the essence with this project and I hope we can make quick progress with our preferred option, which is deliverable and afforable. The new link road is badly needed to reduce congestion, journey times and journey distance and thereby reduce the carbon footprint of traffic within the Inverness City Centre," he said.
Meanwhile, Provost Jimmy Gray, chairman of the council's Inverness City committee, which met on Monday to discuss the options, agrees fully with the recommendation to back option 6.
"I am convinced that option 6 provides us with the best solution. We need to make very early progress with this project to ease congestion in the city centre and take full advantage of the opportunities presented in the redesign of the Bught/ Torvean area to provide the city with enhanced sporting facilities."The cross-party group met for the last time to select its favoured route, out of the three remaining options, crossing the River Ness and Caledonian Canal and link the A82, A9 and A96 trunk roads.
The favoured option, which should relive traffic congestion in the city, will be recommended to Highland Council for approval when it meets on 1st March.
Option six is a £27.2 million route which will have a swing bridge and low-level river crossing.
It follows a sweeping alignment along the river bank from Dores Road Roundabout to cross the River Ness at the Precast Yard/weir. Thereafter the link road follows the toe of the Caledonian Canal embankment to a tandem canal bridge arrangement at Tomnahurich.
The other two options were a high-level swing bridge which emerged as the public’s preferred option, backed by 85 per cent of The Inverness Courier’s readers in a poll, but it is the most expensive at an estimated cost of £68.7 million. And, the cheapest option, at £23.5 million was a low-level swing bridge over the canal near the Tomnahurich Bridge.
The talks were again be held behind closed doors.
Councillor Laing suggested 1st March could be the "momentous" day for Inverness when the green light is given to the final route and it will then enter the design stage.
But a public inquiry is likely and construction may not start until 2014/15.
Inverness Civic Trust chairman John West criticised the closed doors talks.
"Working groups don’t normally discuss matters of strategic importance," said Mr West, who called for a decision to be deferred until after May’s council elections.
Meanwhile, the heritage watchdog has made an 11th hour plea to consider an alternative route it has devised, further west and involving a viaduct bridge.