A major section of the Aberdeen bypass finally opened to traffic today.
Drivers were able to use the 19.5 mile stretch of the road between Stonehaven and Craibstone this morning, following months of delays.
The milestone comes as a call was made for a public inquiry to be held into the project’s handling, with a north-east MP arguing the public has a “right to know what has gone wrong”.
Transport Secretary Michael Matheson refused to be drawn on whether he should apologise to the people of the north-east for delays to the project.
But he did say he could “understand their frustration” before adding the road was “worth waiting for”.
He said: “There’s always a level of frustration and I can fully understand that when a major construction project of this nature is actually being carried out. That has been a very complex process as well.
“There have also been the additional delays, some of which have been caused by adverse weather events that had an impact on the construction of the road.
“But, alongside that, the collapse of one of the three main contractors – which was a major UK contractor – has also had an impact on completing the roads as well.
“So I can understand their frustration but I’ve absolutely no doubt that once people start to get the benefits of the AWPR, they will realise it’s a road that’s really been worth waiting for and it’s one which will make a real difference to the area.”
But Scottish Conservative MP Andrew Bowie, who represents West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, has called for a public inquiry to be held into the project’s handling.
He said: “The AWPR has been plagued with problems from the outset. Costs have ballooned and Transport Scotland is now facing a legal claim.
“The SNP government’s handling of the development has been abysmal.
“I think the public has a right to know what has gone wrong and how we got to this point. Equally, we need to establish what lessons can be learned to ensure mistakes are not repeated.
“Ministers should now consider holding a judge-led non-statutory public inquiry.”
Responding to the call, Mr Matheson said: “This is a normal road construction project and the contract that has been used for this is no different to anything else.
“So what’s important is we get the road opened and the final bit completed over the River Don, and once that road is completed, there’s no doubt people in the north-east will see the real benefits will come from it.”
The opening of the largest stretch of road to date follows an agreement being reached between contractors, their lenders and Transport Scotland, which allowed a variation to the contract.
It is hoped the full AWPR – including the new crossing over the River Don – will be open before Christmas.
Mr Matheson said: “The contractors are still saying they expect to get the technical work on the bridge over the River Don completed by the end of this month, hopefully by Christmas.
“But the nature of that work is highly technical and also very weather sensitive and that could have an impact on them being able to complete it.
“However, they have given us the assurance that they’re applying all the resources they can to get this work completed as quickly as possible but also to the required standard of that type of work. It is very dependent on the contractors being able to get it completed within the weather window they have in order to carry out this technical work.
“That’s why it could be dependent on the weather over the next couple of weeks and whether they can get it completed in time for Christmas – but they’re doing the very best they can.”