The long-awaited review of the A96 route between Aberdeen and Inverness has cost taxpayers more than £3.8 million so far, the Press and Journal can reveal.
The SNP promised over a decade ago to fully dual the trunk road by 2030.
The overdue pledge was thrown into doubt when the party entered a power-sharing deal with the Greens in summer 2021.
A review of the dualling project was ordered, including a climate assessment.
New figures released under freedom of information laws show the A96 corridor review cost precisely £3,825,341.67 as of June 1.
Yet some commentators wonder if the road will ever be dualled as promised.
Neil Greig, policy and research director at road safety charity IAM Roadsmart, told the Press and Journal he has always supported the scheme but “never felt that it’s ever going to happen”.
He said the focus has been on the A9 between Inverness and Perth, which is also long overdue for improvements as promised by the Scottish Government.
“I’ve never felt the A96 had ever been developed to that same level in terms of plans and so on,” he said.
Mr Greig continued: “We’re not going to get dualling all the way from Aberdeen to Inverness. I don’t see that in my lifetime.”
A9 dualling bill
The Tories described the cost of the review as a “jaw-dropping sum of money” and said it is “scandalous” that almost £4m has been spent to date.
Government roads agency Transport Scotland defended the cost as “not unreasonable” given the “length and complexity” of the corridor.
The Green party has long been opposed to the expansion of either the A96 or the A9 connecting Inverness with Aberdeen and Perth.
She said: “By putting them along the A96 we can cut speeds and save lives.
“Lifesaving changes like this could be delivered very quickly, and for a tiny fraction of the cost of dualling. They would also have a greater and longer lasting impact than the irresponsible obsession the Tories have with dualling.
“We must also consider the environmental impact of our roads, and not just pave the way for more traffic congestion and pollution.”
Tory MSP Liam Kerr, who also represents the North East region, said: “This is a jaw-dropping sum of money for a politically driven review aimed at solely pleasing the SNP’s Green coalition partners and their anti-motorist agenda.
“It’s scandalous that almost £4 million of taxpayers’ cash has gone towards this questionnaire and climate compatibility test more than a decade on from when the SNP promised to dual the A96 in full.”
Ranald Robertson, director of Highlands and Islands Transport Partnership, told MPs on Monday there is “uncertainty” around the A96 dualling review.
Addressing the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster, he said: “We have had some engagement but even with that engagement it’s not very clear where that one’s going.”
Asked if he thinks the route will be fully dualled, he confirmed he did.
He added: “My sense is people are still very supportive of it as an intervention.
“I don’t think 2030 will be achievable.”
The £3.8m bill includes the cost of undertaking a public consultation exercise, which attacted 4,687 responses.
A Transport Scotland spokesman said it is “committed to improving the A96” with the current plan being to fully dual the route.
The outcomes of the “evidence-based” review are expected to be ready for further consultation later this summer.
The spokesman said: “The total spent to date on the A96 Corridor Review reflects the extensive appraisal and assessment work that is required to appropriately inform this review and includes consideration of the large number of responses received through the initial consultation exercise and intensive sifting process to determine the initial options for further appraisal.
He added: “This expenditure is not unreasonable given the length and complexity of the corridor subject to the review and the extent of the work being carried out to complete it.
“The Scottish Government is also committed to dualling the Inverness to Nairn section including the Nairn bypass and we continue to progress the preparation stages of the scheme with a view to completing the statutory process for that as soon as possible.”