The long-promised upgrade to the A9 between Perth and Inverness has been delayed again.
SNP transport chief Jenny Gilruth confirmed the target to complete the project within the next three years was “simply no longer achievable” because of economic pressure.
She announced a bid to upgrade the Tomatin-Moy section in the Highlands has been rejected over high costs and will have to go out to tender again.
The SNP originally promised to dual the 80-mile route when the came into power more than 15 years ago.
Campaigners have been inundating the Scottish Government with demands to upgrade the A9 after more than a dozen tragedies on the route in 2022.
Speaking in Holyrood on Wednesday, Ms Gilruth said: “Progress has been significantly disrupted by the pandemic. The UK economic climate has been extremely volatile in recent times.
“The original completion date for the dualling of the A9 was scheduled to be 2025. That timescale is simply no longer achievable.
“I will set out a revised timescale as soon as possible. It is true that the target date originally set was always an ambitious challenge.”
Fergus Ewing wins ‘hat’ bet
Former SNP government minister Fergus Ewing previously said he would eat his hat if his party met the 2025 deadline.
He says locals are owed an apology for the delays.
In October, Highland representatives demanded increased safety measures on the A9 to bring down the “catastrophic death toll”.
Perthshire Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser said Ms Gilruth’s statement was full of “empty words” and further bad news for drivers.
He said: “Today we might have hoped for some positive news, some detail on a timetable for long-delayed completion. Instead, all we have is more bad news, with a further delay to the Tomatin-Moy stretch.
“The minister could tell us nothing about progress or a timetable for completing the remaining sections, no details, no timescales, no hope, just empty words repeated over and over about an unwavering commitment.
“More people will die this year, and next, and the one after, as this SNP promise is not delivered.”
Highland Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone said: “The minister claimed that people call the A9 the “‘spine of Scotland’, linking Lowland with Highland”.
“In that case, I do not know how the Scottish Government expect Scotland to stand when the top half of its spine is falling apart.”
The SNP have also come under pressure over their failure to dual the A96 route between Aberdeen and Inverness.