Why should the A6 (to Belfast) be prioritised ahead of the A5 (to Dublin)?
Frankly, we all know this is an essentially sectarian question. Nationalists quite fancy the A5 because it links to the “national capital” after all. They will, therefore, make the evidence suit that case.
It doesn’t, though. Well, not really.
Firstly, we need to note this isn’t an “either/or”. In fact, upgrading each road occurs in sections. You could upgrade a section of one, and then a section of the other. In fact, that is what you should do.
Then, we need to look at the individual sections. I would be inclined to prioritise them as follows (using sections which Transport NI seems now to base its plans on):
– first, A6 M22-Castledawson (often referred to as “Moneynick”, but actually the contract includes the section over the county boundary to the west of the Toome Bypass too);
– second, A6 Dungiven Bypass (to the south);
– third, A5 Ballygawley-Omagh;
– fourth, A6 Derry-Dungiven;
– fifth, A5 Derry-Strabane.
That is as far as I would plan for now. Here is why.
Firstly, the worst stretch on the entire A5/A6 is the “Moneynick” section. This is because, by the late ’60s, the Stormont administration had given up on a more northern route to Derry but not on extending the M22 to Castledawson; it thus invested in improving the A6 beyond Castledawson but assumed it would be replaced before it. With the partial exception of the Toome Bypass, however, the section is the only stretch of main A6 still as it was in the ’50s (other than in Dungiven, see below). Hence it is heavily congested at some times and plain dangerous the rest of the time. So it is far and away top priority for that alone. Throw in usage and economic benefit (as the stretch serves Mid Ulster as well as the North West), and this just becomes even clearer.
The battle for second priority is tighter for me, but the A6 Dungiven Bypass just edges it ahead of A5 Ballygawley-Omagh. This is for much the same reason as Moneynick – assuming a Dungiven Bypass was coming, even in the ’60s, the road was left alone temporarily (“temporarily” came to mean half a century). Add to that the significant journey time saving (not only is the route slowed by passing through Dungiven but also by the fact it is significantly diverted to do so) and pollution levels (raised in fact by Sinn Féin), and there is an urgent economic and health case.
Ballygawley-Omagh is the priority section of A5 for me partly because it serves a double purpose (connecting the North West to the south but also the West of Ulster to Belfast), and partly because it is dangerous. As with the new A4 expressway to which it connects, it would clearly save lives.
I would put the Derry-Dungiven A6 section next not least because it diverts traffic away from the east and south of the city in preparation for increased traffic on the subsequent A5. The A5 expressway stops south of Derry, near Newbuildings, and all the traffic on it is then assigned to an urban single carriageway – an obvious bottleneck as far as the Craigavon Bridge. Any traffic which can be diverted away from this area therefore should be – and the A6 plans help (though do not entirely solve) the problem by moving traffic exiting Derry eastbound to a bypass north of Drumahoe (meeting the existing Derry-Coleraine road north of the Foyle Bridge, taking the Craigavon Bridge out of the equation for traffic on this route to and from the Cityside and North Donegal).
To be very clear, I’d like to see all these projects completed and many beyond them. However, not least given the current financial circumstances (and our determination not to have toll roads), there is a need to prioritise which sections will be done first. If anyone has any other thoughts, I’m listening!