Ministers were warned two years ago that fully dualling the A9 road could take until 2034 and cost almost £7.2bn – more than double the original £3bn estimate.
The details are revealed in new papers, which also make clear Scottish ministers have never formally agreed how the construction of eight of the 11 sections of the major infrastructure project are to be funded.
Then transport minister Jenny Gilruth announced in February this year that work to upgrade the road – which runs from Perth to Inverness – to dual-carriageway in its entirety by the original 2025 completion date was “simply unachievable”.
Ministers had previously promised to give an update to Holyrood on the project this autumn – with this expected to take place “within days”.
But papers released by Transport Scotland to Holyrood’s Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee show that in September 2017, ministers were told “further slippage” in the project “would increase the risk of not achieving 2025”, while in August 2018 there was a warning that using a private finance model to fund the work would “mean the 2025 deadline would not be met”.
Committee convener Jackson Carlaw said the documents reveal a “piecemeal process” behind the project, “with concerns raised repeatedly about spiralling costs and delays to completion”.
With 74 separate papers handed over to the committee, a summary of the documents was produced by the independent Scottish Parliament Information Centre (Spice).
This work, published as part of the committee’s inquiry into the dualling project, show a discussion paper dated December 23, 2021 set out different options.
It compared using both a “traditionally capital-funded approach to completing the final eight of 11 A9 dualling programme stages”, or alternatively a privately financed, revenue-funded option – most probably one based on the Mutual Investment Model that has been used by the Welsh Government.
The earliest the project would be completed if capital funding was used would be 2034, the paper said – almost a decade after the original 2025 deadline.
If revenue funding was used, the paper suggested the work could be completed by 2032 – but adopting such an approach could see the total costs amount to just under £7.2bn.
If capital funding were used costs could be less, with an estimated total of just over £4.5bn.
“Both of these options would require re-prioritisation from other budgets and difficult choices about the affordability of other projects,” the paper said.
In December 2022, a paper submitted to then deputy first minister John Swinney and others said ministers should consider “pausing the programme in its entirety for an indefinite period, to be restarted when circumstances permit” – but recommended instead that they progress “certain elements” of the project “while reviewing and updating the work to determine the most suitable procurement options”.
In a written submission to the committee, First Minister Humza Yousaf, himself a former transport minister, made clear his “continued determination to see the A9 dualled”.
Yousaf described upgrading the entire road to dual-carriageway as a “vital part” of Scottish Government efforts “to support the residents and businesses in the Highlands”.
He added the work is “also of national economic importance to Scotland”.
But speaking about the papers received, Carlaw said: “The evidence we’ve received is stark, revealing a piecemeal process, with concerns raised repeatedly about spiralling costs and delays to completion.
“It’s evident that the Scottish Government have known for a considerable length of time that the 2025 deadline was in jeopardy, however it’s less clear what action ministers have taken to address this.”
Carlaw said the committee will review the evidence it has received when it meets on December 20.
At that meeting, he said committee members will “consider our next steps, including if further evidence is required from Transport Scotland officials or previous transport ministers”.
A Transport Scotland spokesperson said: “The advice provided in 2018 related specifically to the impact of moving to a mutual investment model.
“It did not relate to a traditional capital funding model.
“It was in late 2022 that Transport Scotland knew with certainty that the 2025 date could not be achieved.”
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