This is not about to become a roads blog (I leave that to the real expert), but last week’s piece obviously struck a chord. Open infrastructure is something we all use, and a classic example of pure politics – balancing the needs of different interests and communities.
Occasionally this is abused. Roads issues can become blatantly sectarian, or more normally they are used by candidates to be populist – most usually by arguing for bypasses which will never be built. In terms of Northern Ireland’s main roads, such politicians can fairly easily be caught out because there is already a list of “current schemes” – if it is not on here, it is not happening this decade or even near it (unless it is a minor link road I have omitted).
I would venture to suggest these are roughly in priority order as far as Departmental officials are concerned – and, of course, the first two are currently under construction and as of later this year the third (A6 Randalstown-Castledawson discussed last week) will be too. It would be no surprise the see the announcement of the first section of the fourth, the A5 Derry-Strabane, within the current Assembly term.
The terms of the Budget following “A Fresh Start” suggest that the fifth is next, although again finances will not permit the whole thing – we will almost certainly see an announcement on the A6 Dungiven Bypass sooner rather than later, and possibly of either the whole eastern half of the project (A6 Claudy-Dungiven) or its western extremity (effectively a Derry Eastern Bypass, from Maydown past Drumahoe).
Beyond that the Budget is silent, but officials have long had the A12/M2/M3 York Street Interchange top of the priority list (notwithstanding my contention that perhaps it should be built alongside the A2 Sydenham Bypass upgrade, which also appears on the list further down). The A24 Ballynahinch Bypass has also seen significant planning work done.
If this is a list in priority order, it is of course frustrating to see the A1 junctions upgrades so far down, given their absence is costing lives. I would go so far as to suggest that work on the A6 and A5 should be restricted to Randalstown-Castledawson, Dungiven Bypass and Derry-Strabane with the rest of the budget allocated to them reallocated to the A1 gap junctions before more lives are lost at them (with priority then extended to include planning and then development of further upgrades on the Loughbrickland-Newry section, currently unplanned, to complete the expressway from Hillsborough to the border).
In conclusion, I would move A1 upgrades up the list and combine York Street Interchange and A2 Sydenham Bypass into a single project. Otherwise, assuming A6 and A5 mean the three sections noted above in addition to what is already announced, I would suggest the priorities are about right.
But that is open to debate, of course!