Plans to double the A96 between Inverness and Nairn have taken a step forward.
Cabinet Secretary for Transport Michael Matheson has given the green light for the completion of statutory procedures related to the duality plans.
Subject to the absence of contestation of the development by-laws, the survey work and the land acquisition process will begin.
Mr Matheson said: “We continue to advance our ambitious plans to overtake the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen, providing approximately 88 miles of improved road.
“The green light for the A96 Dualling Inverness to Nairn program (including Nairn Bypass) is a big step forward in our plans to double this 19 mile section of the route and reinforces our commitment to double the A96 and invest in the Highlands.
“Our plans for this section also include nearly 19 miles of off-road shared use facilities for non-motorized users that will connect local communities along the route and facilitate active travel in the corridor.
“This important decision now paves the way for us to publish the orders made for this program and we are continuing the necessary preparatory work to achieve publication by this summer.”
“Provided that there is no challenge to the orders issued, this would complete the project’s statutory process and allow us to acquire the land necessary for the construction of the project.
“At the same time, preparatory work is also underway to advance the preliminary work, for example invasive archaeological prospecting work, after the completion of the regulatory process and the acquisition of the land.
“This milestone for the program sets the stage for other sections of the road to follow as we continue to advance the detailed development and evaluation of preferred options for the Hardmuir projects in Fochabers and East of Huntly in Aberdeen. “
Doubts were raised earlier this month over the timing of the A96 and A9 twinning.
It has been suggested that completion of work on the A9 could be postponed from 2025 to 2030, with work on the A96 either being reduced or delayed, as Transport Scotland said it would have to ‘take stock’.
Asked by the Highlands MSP, Jamie Halcro Johnston asked if she wanted to reassure Highlanders that the Scottish government remains “committed to completing both projects in their entirety and on schedule.” Nicola Sturgeon seemed to dodge the question.
“Covid has had an impact on all of this and we will have to consider exactly what that impact will be in the future,” she said before adding that “we will continue to advance these [projects] as quickly as possible. “
Today’s announcement by the cabinet secretary indicates that a construction schedule cannot be established until the project is formally approved.