Transport chiefs admit they still do not have the land needed to dual the A96 between Inverness and Nairn.
The SNP government was accused of being “no closer” to delivering the congestion-busting scheme, which includes the Nairn bypass.
They approved the work two years ago but have not used their compulsory purchase powers to secure the land needed for the revamped road.
It has also emerged that the Holyrood government removed money set aside for the purchases in its emergency Budget last year.
Government agency Transport Scotland claimed this “re-profiling” will not “adversely impact overall plans for delivering the project”.
However, Scottish Conservative transport spokesman Liam Kerr said the slow rate of progress was “astonishing”.
The row erupted ahead of a summit on the future of the A96 next week.
Hosted by Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin, the meeting is due to be attended by MSPs across the wider region, as well as Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth.
The SNP promised in 2011 to dual the entire A96 from Aberdeen to Inverness.
But the pledge has been in doubt since First Minister Nicola Sturgeon struck a power-sharing deal with the Greens in 2021, leading to a review of the £3 billion project.
The 18-mile Inverness to Nairn section is unaffected by the review after being safeguarded by the government as part of the agreement.
Proposed bypasses for Nairn, Keith, Elgin and Inverurie were also all supposed to be protected.
We revealed last year that officials privately admitted “extremely constrained” budgets meant “difficult choices may have to be made by ministers in terms of progressing with (or prioritising) projects currently in development, including the Inverness to Nairn scheme”.
The Scottish Government forked out £29.5m on drawing up plans for the Inverness to Nairn section.
The money paid for design and assessment, site investigations, and pushing the scheme through statutory procedures.
But the government has still not spent any money compensating landowners along the route because they have yet to make the one planned compulsory purchase order.
Mr Kerr, a north-east MSP, said: “It is exactly two years since the A96 Inverness to Nairn scheme received ministerial approval yet we are no closer to seeing a shovel hit the ground yet.
“Despite almost £30m of taxpayers money spent and lives being put at risk on a daily basis, it’s astonishing this SNP government still hasn’t filed for any compulsory purchase order yet.”
Decision on A96 delayed
A review into the dualling of the rest of the A96 was due to be concluded last year, but a final decision has been delayed.
Ms Martin, who is hosting next Tuesday’s A96 discussion, said: “Dualling of the A96 is the biggest transport concern of my constituents in Aberdeenshire East, and in large part on the grounds of safety.
“The Scottish Government is moving forward with the next phase of the A96 corridor review, which will include a robust appraisal of the 16 retained options, including a climate compatibility assessment, with outcomes expected to be announced in the first half of this year.”
The Scottish Government is under growing pressure over the future of the A96 and the A9, which have both stalled in recent years.
Fergus Ewing attacks SNP record
Veteran SNP politician Fergus Ewing, who voted against the government during a debate on Wednesday on the dualling of the A9 between Inverness and Perth, has said he fears it might not be completed until as late as 2050.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it remained committed to delivering improvements along the A96.
“As part of this commitment we continue to progress preparation for the A96 Dualling Inverness to Nairn – including the Nairn bypass,” he said.
“To date we have spent just under £30 million on the preparatory work for the scheme, which is commensurate with the essential design and assessment work required for any similar road scheme of this size.
“Ministers very much recognise the strength of feeling in the local community on the A96 and indeed the transport minister came to Nairn last year to meet with local councillors, members of the community and pupils from the local Rosebank Primary School.”