Transport chiefs have been accused of putting lives at risk after admitting a key blueprint for the future of the A9 dualling scheme will be a year late.
SNP ministers repeatedly promised that they would reveal the “next steps” for the £3 billion road upgrade between Inverness and Perth by last summer, after a new procurement strategy had been drawn up.
But the Scottish Government confirmed this week that work on the document remains “ongoing”.
Tory MSP Liam Kerr accused SNP ministers of “kicking the can down the road” to appease their Green partners.
The fresh strategy is expected to outline a new timetable and financing proposals for completing the long-awaited revamp of one of Scotland’s most dangerous roads.
Work to upgrade 80 miles of the key route was originally pencilled-in for completion by 2025, but only two of the 11 sections have been dualled to date.
A review of the A9 dualling scheme, as well as a similar project to upgrade the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, was first suggested in 2019.
It was confirmed early last year that ministers intended to “take stock” in the wake of the pandemic.
The A96 project was later plunged into further doubt after the SNP reached a power-sharing agreement with the Scottish Greens.
How the timetable slipped
On the A9, ministers said in March last year that they would work with specialists to finalist the strategy for the remaining sections.
At the time, he added: “We expect this process to conclude in summer 2021 when we will be able to provide an update on next steps towards delivery of this important programme.”
In July last year, we reported that Transport Minister Graeme Dey – who has since left the post – had offered assurances there will be an update “later this summer”.
In September, Mr Dey said the review would be “completed in the coming weeks”.
Six months later, in March this year, Mr Matheson said the procurement strategy work was due to be “complete in the coming weeks”.
However, it was confirmed to us this week that it remains ongoing.
‘Lives are being put at risk’
Mr Kerr, Scottish Conservative transport spokesman, said: “Just like the A96, we are seeing this SNP-Green government shift the goalposts on another major roads project.
“They promised to complete the procurement strategy for the A9 last summer but once again, this latest delay is further evidence of the Scottish Government kicking the can down the road to appease their Green partners.
“Lives are being put at risk by these constant setbacks and the SNP rowing back on previous commitments.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it remained “firmly committed” to completing the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness, with more than £400m already invested in the programme.
He added: “Work to determine the most suitable procurement options for the remaining sections of the A9 dualling is ongoing.
“This is a complex exercise which looks at a number of factors including how the project can be delivered most efficiently by the industry, whilst minimising disruption to road users and helping to support economic recovery post-Covid.
“We will update on the progress of this work at the appropriate time.”