New expressway can transform Larne

Construction of the A8 Ballynure Bypass was completed yesterday as part of the overall new expressway linking Newtownabbey (and northern Greater Belfast) to the outskirts of Larne.

Ballynure Bypass in November [Credit: Noel O'Rawe]

Ballynure Bypass in November [Credit: Noel O’Rawe]

Coming in at over £100 million, there has rightly been some debate about whether this particular road project offers real value for money (rightly, in the sense that good, open debate is healthy).

There is the argument, which in fact I personally would endorse in theory, that there were other more deserving projects – the A6 at Moneynick (between Randalstown and Toome) being the most obvious. However, what happened simply was that during the Celtic Tiger the Irish Government suggested it would fund half (not least in its own interests, as a main freight link from Dublin to Scotland) and thus preparation work was prioritised on that assumption. The money will never be forthcoming now, of course, but the NI Executive decided to proceed anyway given that the project was ready to go sooner than others, having been so prioritised. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.

Then there is the argument that £100 million should not be spent on such projects at all, most commonly presented as “£100 million to save just five minutes’ journey time”. Let us look at that:
– the time alone is on average in good traffic five minutes; that is, five minutes each way; and that may mount up over a period of time (a commuter from Mallusk to Larne over one year thus saves around 32 hours – two full waking days – a year).
– that time also assumes good traffic; but a new dual carriageway also assists (and accounts for a much vaster time saving) in the case of delays and accidents, both in that they become rarer (dual carriageways with barriers are safer roads) and in that minor accidents or breakdowns do not block the entire carriageway.
– the issue is not just “time”, but also stress; studies have shown definitively that driving on dual carriageways and particularly expressways (we’ll come to that) consumes less concentration, and thus less mental energy (and thus cause less stress, not least to freight drivers).

In much of Continental Europe, "expressways" or "semi-motorways" have their own specific sign

In much of Continental Europe, “expressways” or “semi-motorways” have their own specific sign

Expressways (officially known as “Category 6” or “Category 7” dual carriageways), sometimes known as “semi-motorways” in the UK (Continental travellers may be familiar with “voie express” as opposed to “autoroute” in France or “autovia” as opposed to “autopista” in Spain), bring all the benefits of the dual carriageways but make them more pronounced. They allow entrance and exit only to the left (known as “limited access”) with junctions which then all take the form of overpasses or underpasses (known as “grade-separated junctions”), thus prioritising forward movement at all times and not allowing any traffic to cross the carriageway. This makes them hugely safer (as there can be no head-on collisions of any time) and a lot easier to navigate (as it is simply a matter of knowing which junction to leave at).

Expressways have the arguable further benefit of being a cheaper option than motorways because they do not automatically prohibit low-power vehicles and thus do not need a specific alternative route; therefore, they can largely be built “online” (i.e. by dualling an existing road and reconstructing its junctions) rather than as an entirely new road. Category 6 expressways do not have an emergency lane (“hard shoulder”) either. This does, however, bring with it the limitation that not all traffic is kept separate from high-speed vehicles – tractors and even bicycles may be left to compete for space on the same carriageway as cars at 70mph passing lorries at 50mph. Nevertheless, on a relatively low-volume route (as this is, with around 17,000 vehicles per day, although that number will now rise), this can be a reasonable compromise (and restrictions on type of traffic may be placed on expressways, as they are on the A12 Westlink in Belfast; they are just not automatic as they are with motorways).

One further specific benefit of expressways is that, because junctions are dotted out as with motorways, they tend not to suffer “planning creep” as they are not easily accessible. They are designed specifically to move traffic from one large location to another (rather than allowing them access at every hole in the hedge). This is distinct even from non-expressway dual carriageways, which by nature allow new developments and commercial centres to spring up at all points alongside them, soon rendering them hopeless for long-distance traffic while also leading to unsustainable communities of detached shops and houses with no real centre or hub.

Therefore, I would argue strongly that the A8 expressway will bring very significant benefits to the Larne area and the Belfast-Larne corridor and few disadvantages. It will protect the countryside between Newtownabbey and Larne from encroachment while making Larne Town itself (and its hinterland):
– more viable as a commuter town, thus increasing its potential as a residential option;
– more easily accessible (not just in terms of speed, note above); and
– more attractive for freight, ultimately enhancing trade from across the island of Ireland with Scotland in particular.

I’d say that’s £100 million (only £25 million a year for each year of construction on average) very well spent.

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10 thoughts on “New expressway can transform Larne

  1. frank7778 says:

    It seems lavish compared to what you drive onto when you drive off the ferry at the other side.

    • Yes, it does a bit. As I explained above and elsewhere, it wouldn’t have been my priority. But it’s a great boost to Larne – a bonus really, given the railway line has also recently been upgraded.

  2. L.B. says:

    I live in Larne and I pray to the gods that the dip in my house value might flatten once the dust on this road settles. I’ve spent the last few years cursing at the miles of 40 MPH speed limit. It’s gonna take 10 years just to claw that lost time back! 🙂

    • Nearly there now. Gather Ballynure Bypass will be open fully next month; and full A8 expressway due May/June.

      You’ll recoup pretty quickly, I would say. It’ll be as easy to get to Larne as to Carrick even with the new road, given that the former is expressway and the latter dual carriageway with lights/roundabouts.

  3. other paul says:

    Now there’s a bit of a contrast compared with your views on the a5. All politics is local and all that.
    Theres a complete lack of investment in infrastructure to the west of the province and i think your views on transport are completely short sighted at best.

    • Not at all.

      Let’s have a look just at the populations of the District Councils the routes travel through:
      A8 – Larne 32k, Newtownabbey 85k – 117k.
      A5 – Derry 108k, Strabane 39k, Omagh 51k, Dungannon/ST 58k – 256k.

      The latter is barely double the former – yet the latter would cost EIGHT TIMES AS MUCH!!

      That is before you get to the point that the A8 is EUROPEAN ROUTE 18 because it is a major transport corridor (ultimately from the entire east coast of Ireland, population 4 million – to the whole of Scotland and part of the north of England, population 6 million); the A5 does not carry a European designation because, well, it isn’t.

      Even at the same money, then, I would build the A8 expressway before the A5 (though, as I made clear in the other article, I’ve some sympathy for the Ballygawley-Omagh section being prioritised in the early ’20s).

      • other paul says:

        Is the a5 not a considerably bigger project? I don’t hold alot of water in the european route designation, it seems like a bureaucratic construction. And perhaps the population is a confounding factor in this – do people not tend to settle round where the infrastructure is already…
        On that point – is focusing all the investment and population on Belfast good on civic level? I’m sure theres a wealth of studies that show above a critical density of people the quality of life drops. I’m worried that this is the way that we’re heading…

      • Those are legitimate points but I don’t share your worries as much.

        Firstly, it is perfectly normal for infrastructural development to focus on where most people live. Modern economies are based around large cities – places where people mingle, create, innovate and exchange ideas. Belfast is the only city of requisite size in Northern Ireland; actually, Dublin is really the only other one in Ireland.

        That said, I would not abandon Derry. However, the infrastructural priority is actually the A6 – this links it to the nearest large city (and one in the same jurisdiction with the same laws and policies), but also would effectively link it to Dublin via the emerging Belfast-Dublin corridor. In other words, the key for Derry is to be connected to the East Coast as quickly as possible.

        I would also support the development of Derry as a creative and cultural hub (with an expanded Magee and so on).

        Does that make any sense?!

  4. frank7778 says:

    I would have thought the A6 is important because it links Derry to the Aldergrove Airport, to Belfast, and to Larne Harbour. A good road could cut times to the airport considerably.

    • Very much so.

      The proposal is for an expressway from the Gransha Roundabout on the Clooney Road heading initially southbound past Drumahoe to the east and then eastbound more or less along the current A6 line to Dungiven. It would then pass Dungiven to the south.

      At the other end, a new predominantly offline expressway would link the M22 to Toome, and Toome to the Castledawson Roundabout (for Magherafelt/Cookstown).

      My understanding is that Transport NI are now confident of having the latter done by 2021; and the Dungiven Bypass very soon after that.

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