Motorists have been unable to drive on a key section of Aberdeen’s bypass because of a blunder by the Scottish Government, it was claimed last night.
North-east MSP Lewis Macdonald said that transport chiefs made a “mistake” when they were drawing up the contract for the Craibstone to Stonehaven stretch of the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR).
The 19.6-mile section was completed weeks ago, but Mr Macdonald believed it has not yet opened because it was included in the same “phase” in the contract as the new River Don bridge, which has been hit by “minor defects”.
And the Labour MSP claimed that the government would have to reach a financial deal with the contractor to split that phase of the work, and open the Craibstone to Stonehaven section before the Don crossing.
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Transport Secretary Michael Matheson was due to update MSPs on the AWPR’s progress at Holyrood today, amid fears the scheduled “late autumn” opening date could be missed.
The Press and Journal reported last week that Mr Matheson had told officials to work to get the Craibstone to Stonehaven section open “as soon as possible”, as he piled pressure on contractors to “swiftly” agree to the move, despite ongoing work at the River Don bridge.
Mr Macdonald believed that this had not been achieved to date because the contractors, Aberdeen Roads Ltd (ARL), would be reluctant to change the terms of the contract.
And he questioned why it had not been broken into smaller “phases” during the negotiations to draw up the £745 million contract, which was signed in 2014.
The Labour MSP said: “When you look at the project north of the River Don, it was in three different phases – which means the airport phase, Balmedie to Tipperty, and Balmedie to Parkhill have been opened at three different times.
“That’s a sensible way to phase the project. The problem is that once you get to the Don and from the Don southwards all the way across the Dee and all the way to Stonehaven, it’s a single phase.
“If the government had phased it differently, they might be in a much better place, and we might be driving on the road.
“So the mistake was made, not by the current transport minister, but at the point at which this contract was signed off, the phasing that was agreed by the Scottish Government at that time, means they can’t open anything south of the Don bridge without opening the Don bridge itself.”
He added that he believed the contractors were “clearly taking the view that they shouldn’t hand over a bit of that phase unless they can reach an agreement on how the money should be paid, and what the maintenance liability should be going forward”.
Last night, a Transport Scotland spokesman said: “The AWPR is a large, complex infrastructure project and unforeseen technical issues such as those at the Don Crossing are not unusual.
“But it is simply unrealistic to expect every conceivable scenario across a 58km construction site, including more than 100 structures, to be taken into account.
“Nevertheless, Transport Scotland has worked constructively with ARL to open sections of the road when they become available and it has been safe to do so.
“An important consideration in this process is ensuring driver safety and assessing the potential local road traffic impacts when partially opening sections.”