It followed the party pledging, after it came to power in 2007, to finish the job, boasting it was the first government to have made the commitment. All these years on, and with little more than three years until the end of 2025, that target date is widely seen as unachievable.
Only about a third of the 110-mile road between the two cities has yet been dualled, with no further construction underway since the opening of the latest, six-mile section south of Dunkeld last year. Most of the dual carriageway sections were built by previous governments and there are 70 miles to go.
Back in 2008, before ministers announced a timescale, I wrote that the SNP’s dualling pledge was likely to “take decades to achieve” – and it’s already taken more than one. Since then, I – along with opposition politicians – have repeatedly asked about progress as the dwindling time left to 2025 has made it increasingly unlikely that that date could be met.
But despite the Scottish Government’s commitment to the scheme being regularly re-emphasised – most recently by transport minister Jenny Gilruth two weeks ago – there has been silence over when it’s actually likely to be finished.
There’s also been no updated cost figure since the £3 billion estimate was announced a decade ago. However, the Scottish Government’s Transport Scotland agency, which is in charge of the project, hinted at what it might have reached by telling me this week that the “current cost estimate” remains £3bn “at 2008 prices”. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that’s £4.47bn in today’s money.
With the squeeze on public spending, the climate emergency and the Scottish Government’s bold ambition to cut traffic by 20 per cent by 2030, it could be argued that huge undertakings like the A9 dualling – arguably the biggest project in Scotland’s history – should be scaled back.
However, as The Scotsman has revealed over the last few weeks, there is another emergency on the A9 – the growing death toll on the remaining single-carriageway sections between Perth and Inverness. Not only have we established that the 12 people who have died so far this year is the highest number since 2012, but the death rate on the single carriageway stretches outnumbers that on the dualled sections by 20 to one.
The average speed cameras in operation on the single-carriageway sections since 2014 may have cut speeding but are clearly not a panacea and cannot prevent risky overtaking or collisions at junctions with don’t have the benefit of slip roads.
There’s also the concern that the A9’s current mix of single and dual carriageway stretches can cause confusion, especially among foreign drivers and those turning onto it from side roads.
The situation is sufficiently serious that ministers need to square with the Scottish public and be open about a realistic timescale to get the dualling completed. It won’t happen in 2025 but we deserve to be given a better idea of when.