THE next phase in the dualling of the A96 from east of Huntly to Aberdeen saw a "Meet the Team" event held in the Stewart's Hall in Huntly last Thursday.
Officials from Transport Scotland and main design contractor Amey Arup were on hand to meet members of the public and discuss the timetable of developments for the 26-mile section of road.
The £50 million design contract is part of the ambitious target to dual the A96 between Inverness and Aberdeen by 2030. The project will be tackled in four phases: Inverness to Nairn, Wester Hardmuir to Fochabers, Fochabers to Huntly and Huntly to Aberdeen.
John MacIntyre, project manager with Transport Scotland said there had been a steady flow of people attending the event in Huntly and 24 hours previously the team had spoken to more than 500 people in Inverurie.
He said the next step is for the design team to do more detailed work on assessing the route options and next autumn they will return to the town with three options for the scheme. An environmental impact assessment is a key part of the ongoing work.
Following further public consultation and feedback, the design team will reveal a preferred option 12 months later.
The project team will look to publish design orders for the road scheme in four years time, with any compulsory purchase orders for land they deem necessary.
At that stage people whose properties or land will be affected have the right to lodge an objection and if these cannot be resolved then there may be the need for a public local inquiry.
"We have done a lot of consultation so far and we are coming up to 10,000 people we have spoken to," said Mr MacIntyre.
"This will hopefully be good for the regional economy and for people using the roads to get to work. Road safety is a big consideration as well."
Retired lorry driver Les Innes (75), from Keith, said: "I have been driving the A96 for more than 50 years and the worst bit is between Fochabers and Huntly. This [dualling] will make a big improvement."
Duncan Barton, who runs a development company, attended the event with his daughters Macey (11) and Caitlin (12).
Mr Barton, who lives at Culsalmond, hopes the design team go for a completely new line for the dualling project and not upgrade the existing A96.
"That is a road which has 600 entrances and exits between Inverness and Aberdeen. They need to go for a cleaner, straighter route. The Leys of Benachie would be the clean route. The road is blighting a lot of properties at the moment because people don't know which route it is going to take.
"I lived in Azerbaijan for 10 years and there they took decisions on infrastructure in four months, which was perhaps a bit dictatorial but it got things done."
Jock Strathdee, from Cairnie, is a hospital porter in Huntly and he uses the A96 every day and believes that dualling can only improve the road.