Minister accused of 'betrayal' as A9 dualling target missed
THE Scottish Government has admitted it will miss its target for dualling the A9, despite a recent surge in fatal accidents along the road.
Transport minister Jenny Gilruth was accused of "betrayal" after telling MSPs the aim of dualling the road between Perth and Inverness by 2025 had become “simply unachievable”.
She was unable to give a new target date, saying her officials would not be ready to tell her until the autumn.
After three years of single deaths, 13 people died in eight accidents in 2022, with driver confusion when the road switches between single and dual carriageway seen as a factor.
The Scottish Government committed to widening around 80 miles of single carriageway in 11 sections along the road in 2011, when it was estimated to cost £3 billion.
However only 11 miles in two sections have been dualled since, leaving around 70 miles in nine places yet to be finished.
Ms Gilruth blamed delays caused by Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine for the failure of the most recent procurement exercise.
Opposition parties said the repeated delays were a “betrayal” of the Highlands.
Inverness SNP MSP Fergus Ewing, one of whose friends was recently killed on the A9, said the news would be met in the Highlands with "shock, incredulity and anger".
He also criticised the lack of a revised timetable when "every single person in the Highlands" knew 2025 would never be hit.
Ms Gilruth revealed only one tender had been submitted during the procurement exercise to dual the Tomatin to May stretch, with a “significantly higher than expected” bid.
Accepting it would not be best value for the taxpayer, and so the procurement competition would be re-run, she announced, with an eye to awarding it by the end of 2023.
She said: “This procurement process coincided with external factors including the pandemic, disruption caused by Brexit, and the war in Ukraine, with the inflationary impacts of those all affecting significantly the construction market.
“This has been a difficult decision to make but we believe it to be the right, and indeed the only responsible one to take in all the circumstances. However, let me assure everyone that Transport Scotland is already taking the necessary preparatory steps for the urgent re-tendering of the Tomatin to Moy project.“
Ms Gilruth said the 2025 completion target had always been “an ambitious challenge”, and relied on a range of interconnected factors and funding affected by external events.
“This has made this 2025 date simply unachievable,” she said.
“Transport Scotland is urgently considering a range of different options to provide Ministers advice on the most efficient way in which to dual the remaining sections.
“That consideration will include updating the evaluation of options involving the use of design & build contracts, to reflect changes to contractual terms and conditions developed from engagement with the construction industry.
“ I expect to have that advice by Autumn 2023 at which time I will update Parliament to put forward a renewed timescale for completion.
“Our investment of over £430 million to date means much has already been achieved and while much is still to be done, this Government is absolutely committed to completing the A9 Dualling programme.”
Referring to the worries over safety, Ms Gilruth added: ”I announced an investment of approximately £5 million in additional road safety measures for the A9 back in December.
“ I am pleased to confirm that these have now commenced and are progressing well, as confirmed by BEAR Scotland at the A9 Safety Group last week in Inverness.
“This includes enhancements to signing and road markings, initially between Birnam and Dalguise, and installation of eight electronic signs to display safety messages at key locations between Perth and Inverness.
“Furthermore, a road safety campaign targeting driver fatigue will begin on 13 February and preparations for a drive on the left campaign are well underway ahead of an Easter launch.”
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said: “Communities along the A9 in Perthshire and the Highlands have been waiting now more than a decade for this Government to fulfil its commitment to dual the A9 in its entirety from Perth to Inverness.
“In that time, we have seen barely 10 miles completed, out of a total of 80.
“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’.
“Last year 12 people lost their lives on single carriageway sections of the A9. More will die this year, and next, and the one after, as this SNP promise is not delivered.
“The Minister must urgently tell us when this commitment will actually be met and this long-delayed, and vital, road safety project completed.”
Labour Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This is a total betrayal of the highlands and yet another broken election promise.
“Lives are being lost on this dangerous road while communities go without the upgrades they have waited years for.
“It is shameful that on the day Volodymyr Zelensky is addressing the UK Parliament, SNP Ministers are trying to blame the war in Ukraine for their failure to deliver a manifesto pledge from 2007.
“This is a mess of the SNP’s own making – and the Minister’s desperate excuses can’t hide that.
“The SNP need to come clean and tell us when they will actually deliver this long overdue promise.”
Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, criticised the Scottish Government for not announcing more money for road improvements north of Inverness.
He 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 failure to invest in the A9 north of Inverness shows that once again, the Scottish Government chooses to completely ignore the great need for improvements.
“They could start with the A9 north of the Tore roundabout, or with the dangerous junctions such as at Newmore and Tain, or the weather blackspots such as the Cambusavie bends, or many other treacherous stretches of the roads stretching to Thurso and Wick which drivers can easily name.
"This has been the situation for far too long and it once again demonstrates a bias that has become glaringly obvious"
Scottish Greens transport spokesperson Mark Ruskell MSP said: “I welcome the Minister’s emphasis on road safety. It needs to be taken seriously and prioritised ahead of dualling every last inch of the road, which will come at an astronomical cost and be likely to increase traffic and pollution.
“I also welcome the Transport Scotland analysis about why recent accident rates have increased and how they could have been prevented.
“We must invest in genuine road safety improvements to protect lives across Scotland, but that needs funding and a real focus on what can actually work.”