PLANS to dual the remaining 86 miles of the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness at an expected cost of £3 billion were unveiled by transport minister Keith Brown today.
The mammoth project is due to be completed by 2030 - just five years after a scheme to finish dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness, also costing £3bn.
Together, they represent what could be the biggest building project in Scottish history and the equivalent of four Forth Replacement Crossings - which is itself putting a strain on the Scottish Government budget.
Unlike the A9, which already bypasses all towns and villages between Perth and Inverness, the A96 scheme would involve bypassing five towns, which is likely to involve new sections of road.
Mr Brown said work would start with engineering and environmental assessments; design of the Inverness to Nairn section, including a Nairn bypass; and studies into possible routes for the bypasses of Forres, Elgin, Keith and Inverurie.
The route of the Nairn bypass is expected to be chosen next year, with those for the others to follow design work to be completed by the end of next year.
Mr Brown said: “Dualling this important road is a significant undertaking which will require careful in-depth planning and design.
“This will ensure we deliver the right scheme to help tackle congestion while providing better journey time reliability and road safety.
“Although our plans for dualling the A96 are less advanced than the A9, we are committed to investing in this strategically important route.”
The minister said consultation would start later this year, to “ensure the businesses and individuals affected by the work are kept fully informed and their important feedback is taken into account as we design, procure and construct.”
A spokesman for the Scottish Greens said: “When it comes to road building, the Scottish Government seems to have a magic pot of cash that never ends. Yet when communities want improved cycling infrastructure or better buses, ministers shrug their shoulders and claim the kitty is empty.
“There is merit in bypasses for towns like Nairn that are split in half, but these local solutions should also come with investment in the Inverness-Aberdeen rail service, which is pitiful.”
Conservative transport spokesman and north east Scotland MSP Alex Johnstone said: “The news of this upgrade is long overdue and represents the continuation of work started by the Conservatives in the 1990s.
“Since then, this important route has been overlooked time and again by successive administrations in the Scottish Parliament, and it is welcome news that the SNP have finally woken up to the fact that it needs to be fully dualled.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We will confirm funding arrangements once the dualling programme is fully defined and all the statutory approvals are in place.”