Transport Secretary Michael Matheson has reiterated the Scottish Government’s commitment to dualling the A9 and A96 – but he has admitted the timetable for the work could be hit by further delays.
Worth a combined £6 billion, the two road projects aim to ensure that all of Scotland’s cities are linked by dual carriageway.
Work on the phased upgrade of 80 miles of single carriageway along the A9 between Perth and Inverness got under way in 2015 and has been pencilled in for completion by 2025.
Designs for dualling 86 miles of single carriageway on the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness are due to be published this year, with the end of construction due in 2030.
The projects have been considered long overdue by many motorists, business leaders and safety campaigners in northern Scotland, despite local controversies over routes.
However, they are among the most expensive capital schemes being undertaken by the Scottish Government, and critics have regularly called for them to be abandoned so that the money can be invested elsewhere.
The financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic is now expected to reignite such demands, but Mr Matheson said there was no change to the government’s commitment, and that work would restart imminently.
“Of course construction work has stopped due to the lockdown arrangements,” he said in an exclusive interview.
“I would expect to see construction work on the A9 start again in the weeks ahead as we move through the phases of the route map, which allows for construction work to take place.
“On the A96, some of the public-facing elements of the work around the A96 have had to be suspended due to the lockdown arrangements.
“However, the work that can be taken forward, within terms of planning matters around design etc, that has continued to be taken forward by the companies that are engaged in that process during the course of the lockdown period, because that is work that can largely be taken forward at an office-based level.
“But as a government we remain committed to both the dualling programmes, and I would expect to see construction activity starting again on the A9 once we move into a phase where it is safe for construction work to start again.”
Asked whether the coronavirus lockdown would have a lasting impact on the timetable for both projects, Mr Matheson said: “It is too early to say at this particular stage about what the implications would be on the timetable.
“Part of that is that there are a range of things that could have an impact on it.
“So, for example, some of the construction work that has been delayed on the A9, it may be that the contractors catch up on that construction work if the weather during the course of the summer months and into the autumn is favourable for them.
“However, if the weather isn’t good, it could limit their ability to recover that timetable.
“So it is too early to say at this stage as to what exact impact it will have on the timetable.
“I would expect to get a better understanding of that as we go forward later in the year.”