The Aberdeen bypass contractors have said the Craibstone to Stonehaven and Charleston stretch of the dual-carriageway will open next week as they admitted the entire project has cost more than £1 billion.
Fears that the taxpayer could be billed hundreds of millions extra cash were raised after contractors were grilled by MSPs on Holyrood’s Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee.
The opening of the 20 mile stretch is likely to take place on Wednesday or Thursday and will mean that traffic will be able use more than 85 per cent of the road.
The contractors said the final section should be ready by Christmas with the completion of the Don Crossing, subject to weather and safety checks.
Stephen Tarr of Balfour Beatty told MSPs that the contractors were “hundreds of millions out of pocket”, saying the cash had been spent in order to avoid further delays on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR).
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Although the project has a fixed contract of £745 million, Mr Tarr confirmed that the contractors were seeking compensation from Transport Scotland for the extra money spent on top of that sum.
Neither the contractors nor Transport Secretary Michael Matheson would disclose how much was at stake when asked if the cost of the claim was in the region of tens of millions or hundreds of millions. Both argued that such information was bound by commercial confidentiality.
But the cost of the entire project came to light when Mr Tarr was asked by North East MSP Lewis Macdonald asked him if he would accept that it was now over £1 billion.
Mr Tarr replied: “I think from what we have said you could deduce those are the areas.
“The figure was greeted with anger by members of the committee. After the meeting the Lib Dem MSP for the North East Mike Rumbles expressed concern that more taxpayers’ cash could end up being spent on the AWPR.
“The Scottish Government’s so called ‘fixed price contract’ of £745 million may not turn out to be that,” Mr Rumbles said. “Contractors confirmed this morning that the cost of the road could be up to £1 billion.
“The Transport Secretary was unable to confirm to the committee today the level of claims for more taxpayers’ money lodged with them by the contractors and unable to tell MSPs when the final cost will be known.”
He added: “There must be concerns this could run into hundreds of millions. I am worried about the extent to which the public purse is being exposed to more claims.”
Mr Tarr gave evidence alongside Bill Hocking of Galliford Try and Brian Love of Aberdeen Roads Limited.
Appearing before the committee, Mr Matheson warned that the contractors’ claims could end up in court. The Transport Secretary said it was “not unusual” for claims to be made during construction projects.
But he said contractors were required to provide evidence of substantiate their claim and no data had been produced yet.