Delays to the promised A9 upgrade between Perth and Inverness are likely to drag on for years, according to an ex minister in the Scottish Government.
Kenny MacAskill was part of the SNP administration that set out the 2025 timetable for the £3 billion programme.
But the MP now warns the target is far off – and says the slip cannot all be blamed on the Covid-19 pandemic.
He obtained an update, seen by us, from government agency Transport Scotland which outlines the scale of the job ahead.
2025 won’t be met and not all can be laid at the door of coronavirus.
– Kenny MacAskill MP
Mr MacAskill said the A9 is “pivotal” to Scottish tourism and freight.
“Dualling it from Perth to Inverness is a longstanding commitment to firm up the spine of Scotland and ensure that not just those in the north but all of Scotland can benefit,” he said.
“The renewables revolution is under way and the A9 is vital for its success and the safety of road users.
“2025 won’t be met and not all can be laid at the door of coronavirus.”
Mr MacAskill, who left the SNP and joined Alex Salmond’s Alba party, said dates must be firmed up to help push economic recovery.
What progress has been made?
The road project, which was in the SNP’s 2007 election manifesto, is officially due for completion in 2025 on a £3 billion budget.
The 80-mile scheme is split into sections – and only the stretches between Kincraig and Dalraddy and between Luncarty and Pass of Birnam have been finished, while others are still “in preparation”
The £115 million Tomatin to Moy project took a step forward in August, but only as far as looking to select the main contractor.
A letter from the Transport Scotland chief executive’s office, dated September 16, details how much planning work is still be done.
Sent to Mr MacAskill, it states: “A market consultation exercise commenced earlier this year to inform assessment of procurement options for remaining sections when the statutory process is complete.
“Determination of the optimal procurement option is a complex exercise which is considering a pipeline of work in a form that can be delivered by the industry, supports the economic recovery post Covid and minimises disruption to users of this lifeline route.”
Opinion split as climate change crisis grows
The A9 plan is officially going ahead but another, to dual the A96, might not be completed along the full length.
The new SNP-Green programme for government put the Aberdeen-Inverness plan on pause while a review is conducted of its environmental impact.
On Sunday, we revealed that Highland doctors are campaigning for the Scottish Government to abandon both dualling projects.
Highland Healthcare for Climate Action said the continued focus on road transport is leaving the planet “in shreds”.
The group, comprised of a cross-section of NHS Highland staff including GPs, surgeons and nurses, is instead asking for Holyrood and the Highland Council to concentrate on improving the rail network and active travel.
On the new timetable claims, a Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The Scottish Government remains committed to dualling the A9 between Perth and Inverness and work is continuing across the route.
“The A9 Dualling will bring vital safety benefits and strengthen the connection between the Highlands and the central belt for communities and business through safer roads for road users including bus services, improve journey time reliability and reduce driver stress.
“The programme will also bring enhanced active travel routes for walkers, cyclists and equestrians.”