Transport bosses expect to confirm this year if the current timescales for dualling the A9 and A96 “remain deliverable”.
MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s public audit committee grilled Bill Reeve, director of rail at Transport Scotland, on the progress of both infrastructure projects.
Former Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure Alex Neil said he is “absolutely perplexed” that he could not get an answer on the estimated completion date for both projects.
When asked if the policy is still to complete the A9 Perth to Inverness road by 2025 and the A96 Aberdeen to Inverness route by 2030 or if they were being “quietly shoved into the long grass”, Mr Reeve said “absolutely not”.
He added: “We remain absolutely committed to the delivery of the A9 and A96 as soon as is practicably possible.”
The director of rail added that a revised assessment will be carried out, taking in the impact of Covid-19 and engagement with the construction industry, but said it is “unlikely to be before the summer” that it is made available.
Mr Reeve said: “It is my expectation that later this year it will be possible to confirm whether the current targets remain deliverable or whether there is to be any alteration to those.
“At the minute we are continuing to work to recover programmes, where possible, where they have slipped and to press on with the development work I have outlined.”
It follows an admission from the first minister this month that proposals to dual both roads were “ambitious”, with Covid-19 having impacted on projected timescales.
Work is ‘pressing on’
The two schemes, which are expected to cost at least £6 billion, have faced lockdown setbacks, with only one section of the A9 complete so far and construction yet to start on the A96.
The first section of the A9 works between Kincraig and Dalraddy is complete, with work having restarted on the second section between Luncarty and the Pass of Birnham, following a temporary halt due to coronavirus restrictions.
Mr Reeve said “work is pressing on” with the remaining sections of the road with officials still engaged in the statutory procedures to determine its alignment.
On the A96, the transport boss said the statutory consents process is “under way”.
He added there was “good progress” on the Fochabers to east of Huntly section and that the east of Huntly to Aberdeen virtual exhibition has been extended until March 8 due to a high level of interest from the public – with it drawing 18,000 visits online.