The lack of progress in dualling the A9 is costing lives, according to a former Scottish government minister.
Fergus Ewing said there must be “no more excuses” for the delays to the project to improve the road between Perth and Inverness.
The SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn called for a detailed timetable of the planned upgrades.
It follows the death of an 18-year-old in a crash at Dalmagarry, south of Inverness, on Friday.
The Scottish government said it remained committed to dualling the A9.
Last year former Transport Minister Jenny Gilruth admitted their initial pledge to complete the project by 2025 was “unachievable”.
Mr Ewing told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland that there was “real anger” over the delays.
Asked if the lack of progress was costing lives, he replied: “I’m afraid to say the answer to that is yes, and every life is a tragedy for their families.
“This could not be more serious.”
In 2022, 13 people died on the A9 stretch between Peth and Inverness – the highest number in a single year since 2001.
The MSP, who served as rural economy secretary until 2021, said: “I do think the Scottish government need to bring forward a detailed statement setting out when each section of the road will be dualled and by what time the project will be completed.
“I have asked for this for the last two years, but instead of making significant progress, we move backwards.”
He added: “I think people are fed up with excuses and I do hope that we wouldn’t hear any more of them.”
Earlier this year it emerged that only one contractor tendered for the work to upgrade the Tomatin to Moy section of the road in the Highlands.
The Scottish government said at the time that the contract would have to be retendered after it was decided that the bid did not represent good value for money.
Mr Ewing urged the Scottish government to move away from tendering contracts and switch to framework contracts to get the dualling completed quicker by using multiple companies.
And he accused the Scottish Greens – who are part of the Scottish government with the SNP – of holding back progress on the A9 with their resistance to more road building.
He said: “I think there is growing concern that the green tail is wagging the yellow dog. And that is prevalent everywhere I go in my constituency.”
His colleagues Kate Forbes, the MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, said she also wanted to see an updated timetable.
“I said myself over the last few months that I would want to see the timetable as a matter of urgency and would like to see the road dualled within the next decade,” she added.
Committed to dualling
Transport Minister Kevin Stewart said his sympathies were with the friends and family of the deceased but that it would be “inappropriate” to comment further as police investigations were ongoing.
He added: “On the A9 dualling programme more broadly, we remain firmly committed to completing the dualling of the A9 between Perth and Inverness.
“The £3bn investment (at 2008 prices) is one of the biggest transport infrastructure projects in Scotland’s history and we have already invested over £430m delivering the programme.
He said there would be an update on the dualling programme in the Scottish Parliament this autumn.
“The necessary steps for the new procurement of the Tomatin to Moy project are currently being progressed by officials,” he added.
“They are engaging with The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) and contractors, to consider improvements that can be made to both our contract delivery strategy and procurement mechanisms – in order to maximise interest and market engagement in the new procurement.”
The Scottish Conservatives said there should be “no more delays or excuses”.
Jamie Halcro Johnston, their spokesman for business, trade, tourism and enterprise, said: “Local communities and businesses rely on this route and have long known this project was badly off track and years behind where it should be.
“There are economic and social reasons why the road needs to be dualled – but above all, vital safety considerations. Too many lives have already been lost and every month of delay risks more.”
Meanwhile, Highland Council convener Bill Lobban said he supported Mr Ewing’s calls for a clear timetable on dualling.
He said: “My real sympathy goes to the everyone who has lost their life on the A9 and their relatives.
“The carnage we are seeing on the A9 is avoidable and the easiest way to avoid it is by dualling the A9 from Perth to Inverness, and probably beyond.”