Contractors are battling to get the Aberdeen bypass open before the end of the year after it was was confirmed that the project has been hit by yet another delay.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson revealed yesterday that Aberdeen Roads Ltd had pushed back the “late autumn” target and now hoped to complete the £745million scheme in December.
But he warned that a “definitive date” for its opening could not be offered because work to repair defects on the new River Don bridge could be affected by bad weather.
And he suggested that setting an “arbitrary date” could “compromise” that work.
Opposition MSPs claimed the Scottish Government had “lost its grip” on the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) and demanded that ministers apologise.
Mr Matheson, meanwhile, blamed the contractors for their “simply unacceptable” failure to progress his demand to open the key 19-mile Craibstone to Stonehaven section ahead of completion of the Don crossing.
However, he confirmed that such a move required a variation of the original contract to be agreed by the contractors, and admitted that transport chiefs would need to find out if “lessons can be learned” about the drafting of such contracts in the future.
Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said motorists could be driving on the Craibstone to Stonehaven section by Monday morning if it was not for “a badly drafted contract” that means it can only be opened at the same time as the Don bridge.
Mr Matheson was also left red-faced after accusing the north-east’s media of spreading “inaccurate rumours” that the Craibstone to Stonehaven section had been completed, only to admit minutes later that it “could be opened up”.
Liberal Democrat Mike Rumbles claimed the minister was “continuing to mislead the public” over the key stretch.
ARL reported a “technical issue” with the Don bridge in May after “minor defects were identified while post-tensioning a small number of concrete panels”.
The issue later proved to be “more extensive than previously anticipated”, and last Friday it was confirmed that a “greater scope of work would be necessary”, Mr Matheson confirmed.
In a statement to MSPs, the minister added: “They are working hard to repair the defects and on Monday of this week the contractor reported that it was targetting a December opening date for the whole road.
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“However, they were unable to provide a definitive date for this section as there are a number of factors which could influence this date, including technical issues and other physical factors such as the weather.”
The SNP minister said that for “some months now” Transport Scotland has been investigating the potential to open the Craibstone to Stonehaven stretch, but confirmed such a move required a variation to the original contract.
After being left “disappointed” by communications this week with Peter Truscott, chief executive of consortium partner Galliford Try, Mr Matheson said: “It is now time for the contractor to stop deliberating and start acting.”
However, he later added: “After the opening of the AWPR, if there are some lessons that can be learned about how we draft some of these contracts in the future to address the type of issue that we’ve identified with the AWPR, then clear that’s a lesson that we should learn from.”
North East MSP Liam Kerr said: “The SNP said the AWPR would be open in winter 2017, then they said March 2018, then we were told it’s late autumn 2018. Now we are told, again at the 11th hour, there are further delays.
“People will feel that the Scottish Government has lost its grip on this process.”
A long road to completion
A new road around the city was considered as early as the 1950s with proposed routes put forward over the next couple of decades.
In 2005 the then-transport minister Nicol Stephen gives official approval for the dualling of A90 between Balmedie and Tipperty at cost of £35million.
Then further details of a proposed 28-mile stretch of road were announced at an estimated cost of £395 million.
A public inquiry was launched in September 2008 and the road was given the go-ahead by the Scottish Government at a later date.
However, two years afterwards a formal legal challenge was launched by community group RoadSense objecting to environmental factors holding up the project.
The challenge was eventually rejected after being debated in the courts in 2012.
It was initially hoped that the road would open in Spring 2018.
The AWPR hit its largest bump in the road when Carillon collapsed at the beginning of this year.
The Scottish Government subsequently pushed back the proposed completion date to late autumn, blaming the weather, Storm Frank and Carillion’s liquidation.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the site in September with the launch of the Go North East festival on September 10.
Pressure began mounting on transport bosses for the completion date last month.
Peter Chapman, Scottish Conservative MSP for the north-east, wrote to Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to provide answers, claiming he was seeking “clarity” on the situation.