Scottish ministers have stepped in and demanded the opening of a major section of the delay-hit Aberdeen bypass.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson told officials to work to get the main 19.6-mile length of the road between Craibstone to Stonehaven open “as soon as possible”, as he piled the pressure on the contractors to “swiftly” give it the go-ahead.
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The intervention, which emerged ahead of an update the minister is due to give on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) in Holyrood next week, raised hopes that frustrated drivers could soon be allowed to use the congestion-busting road.
Responding to questions from Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald, the SNP minister insisted that the contractors remained “on target” for completion of the entire £745 million dual carriageway by the “late autumn”.
But he said that Aberdeen Roads Limited (ARL) consortium was currently “unable to estimate a precise opening date” because of remedial work that continues at the new River Don crossing.
Mr Matheson said: “Transport Scotland is working closely with the contractor to open sections of the road as soon as it is safe to do so.
“In particular, I have instructed Transport Scotland to investigate the potential to open the 31.5km section of new road from Craibstone to Stonehaven and Charleston as soon as possible, while remedial work at the Don progresses.
“Discussions have taken place with ARL and they are currently progressing this matter through the necessary governance channels within their organisations.
“It is right and important that ARL considers this matter carefully; but we are urging them to conclude their deliberations swiftly so the people of the north-east can start to benefit from the new road as soon as possible.”
Sections of the road have already opened to traffic, including the Craibstone and Dyce junctions at Aberdeen Airport, the 4.3 mile section of dual carriageway between Blackdog and Parkhill (Goval), and between Balmedie and Tipperty.
But concerns have been growing that the AWPR will not be fully opened by the late autumn target, creating a further delay to the long-awaited scheme, after “minor defects” were found in the River Don bridge.
Mr McDonald, an independent MSP, said: “I think most people would accept that the best outcome would be for the whole road to be open.
“But given that there is remedial work being done at the River Don, it’s the next best scenario for the section from Craibstone to Stonehaven, which has been completed for some time, to be able to open.
“And that would then relieve a huge amount of pressure on other routes within the city.
“So if the cabinet secretary is now intervening to instruct that work is done to get this section open, I think that’s a very welcome development.”
He said it would be “interesting” to hear what update Mr Matheson gives to the Scottish Parliament next week, with late autumn growing “ever nearer”.
Aberdeen City Council transport spokesman Ross Grant said: “This saga has gone on for too long.
“The people of Aberdeen have invested £75 million into this project and deserve to know when it will be open.
“To date, Mr Matheson seems incapable of offering the people of the north-east concrete answers.
“Put simply, Mr Matheson needs to come clean and tell us when the project will be complete and if there will be any additional costs.”
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “The Cabinet Secretary is kept fully updated on the progress of the AWPR project and there is nothing new in these responses to Parliament.
“Remedial work at the Don needs to be concluded, but in the meantime we have been urging the contractor to conclude their deliberations on the opening of the 31.5km section of new road from Craibstone to Stonehaven and Charleston as soon as possible.
“A proposal is still being discussed within their organisations.
“This is a commercial matter for the contractor but we continue to work closely with them to allow the people of the north east to enjoy the benefits of the new road as soon as possible.
“The Cabinet Secretary will provide a full update next week.”