The AWPR will now not be finished until the New Year, despite contractors promising the billion-pound route would be finished by Christmas.
Transport chiefs have admitted there have been further setbacks with the Don Crossing and it will now not be open until January at the earliest.
Yesterday, when questioned by north-east MSP Maureen Watt in parliament, Michael Matheson admitted that contractors Aberdeen Roads Limited (ARL) had told officials two days prior that the bridge was still not ready to be opened.
Despite the transport minister insisting he had always openly questioned ARL’s “ambitious” timescales, he still came under fire from opposition politicians who accused the government of a “cynical ploy” to “sneak” out the news on the last day before the Holyrood recess.
Peter Chapman, North East MSP and a member of the rural economy and connectivity committee, said Mr Matheson’s actions were an “affront to the people of the north-east”.
“I said before that a pre-Christmas opening for the whole route was very optimistic.
“However, news that a January 2019 opening cannot be guaranteed will be met with utter dismay.
“This project has been plagued with problems from the start – and it has all happened under the SNP’s watch. It’s not good enough.”
The vast majority of the route was opened to much fanfare last week, with the long-awaited 20 mile section from Stonehaven to Craibstone finally opened to traffic.
The first 7.5-mile section of the bypass, between Balmedie and Tipperty, opened back in mid-August but further sections have been delayed by contract woes and defects found in the Don crossing.
Lewis Macdonald MSP branded the said the latest announcement demonstrated a “complete failure” of accountability on the part of the government.
He said:”Ministers admitted that they have known since Tuesday that the promise given to open the Don Crossing on the AWPR in December would not be met yet kept this further failure secret until the very end of First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood today.
“This cynical ploy shows a profound disrespect for parliament and a complete failure on the part of SNP Ministers to be accountable to the people of Scotland.”
Aberdeen Donside MSP Mark McDonald said it was “bitterly disappointing” to learn of a further delay and questioned why contractors had put a date out there, which only served to create further expectation and subsequent disappointment among the public.
In a lengthy statement, in which he was critical of contractors Aberdeen Roads Limited, Mr Matheson warned ARL that the government would withhold payment until there were “critical assurances” the bridge was safe for the public to use.
He said: “This week, ARL informed us it was no longer able to meet its own deadline of concluding works at the Don Crossing before Christmas.
“This is just over a fortnight since it set this deadline publicly in parliament.
“I have consistently urged caution and realism about ARL’s ambitious timescales.
“Unfortunately, as disappointing as this news is, it comes as no surprise to me it has been unable to achieve this.
“We have been here before with ARL.
“My officials and I will continue to work constructively and offer every assistance to get the remaining 4.5 miles open as soon as possible.
“I also want to pay tribute to the workforce who have undoubtedly been working hard during this most challenging time of year.
Mr Matheson added: “It is well known that ARL has experienced a series of technical issues during the construction of the Don Crossing.
“In order for this government to protect the public purse, it is imperative that ARL provides the necessary technical and commercial assurances for the Don Crossing.
“We cannot and will not contemplate releasing payments for this structure without these critical assurances.”
ARL are now forecasting completion of the Don Crossing section in January 2019 but according to Mr Matheson have been “unable to provide a definitive date”.
The 20-mile Craibstone to Stonehaven section was opened to drivers on December 11.
The move followed mounting frustration about the road remaining closed for two months, despite being ready for traffic.
Earlier this month it emerged that the cost of the route had rocketed from £745million to about £1billion following a string of delays in its completion.
Although the project has a fixed contract it emerged that contractors were seeking compensation from Transport Scotland for the extra money spent.
Neither the contractors nor Transport Secretary Michael Matheson would disclose how much was at stake, citing commercial confidentiality.
In June, it emerged cracks had been found in the Don River Bridge forcing contractors to undertake remedial works.
Giving evidence to a parliamentary committee, contractors Balfour Beatty and Galliford Try revealed whole sections had to be removed and recast and the bridge re-tensioned.
Further works were then required after similar flaws were discovered in other sections of the crossing.
It had been hoped that these defects had been repaired, however it appears there continues to be issues with the structure.
A document provided by the contractors said the works were “highly susceptible to adverse weather, and are subject to stringent safety tests”.