Yet another life, horribly, was lost on Northern Ireland’s A1 dual carriageway this month. While I do not wish to impose upon the specifics of that incident, it is a fact that almost every fatality on that road occurs near and because of a “gap junction” – i.e. an area where there is no central barrier and vehicles are allowed to turn right across the traffic.
The reason such “gap junctions” are lethal is obvious and requires no investigation. A road designed for speeds of 120kmh (and allowing 115kmh) then sees vehicles moving across each other, and thus into potential collision. The point is obvious; indeed, I appeared on an interview on UTV fully eleven years ago to point it out.
Thus, the task is simple – the entirety of the A1 from the Hillsborough Roundabout to the border should have an unbroken central barrier. That way, vehicles can proceed safely at 70mph, with no prospect of a crossing collision. A road built to such a standard would, on average, see less than a fatality a year – compared to five last year and two already this. Over the eleven years since that interview, that means the vast bulk of fatalities have been simply unnecessary – a horrific toll.
The issue is, of course, slightly complicated by the fact that simply putting a central barrier in place would mean there would be very few locations from which to exit the road. The task then is to build some more “grade-separated” junctions enabling traffic to leave and enter the road to the left (not crossing traffic), and then cross over the road if necessary via elevated bridges. Some such junctions, notably close to Hillsborough itself, have already been constructed.
This, however, only makes the failure to fix the road more scurrilous. Plans already exist for four (effectively five) new grade-separated junctions [illustrated as ever by Wesley Johnston] between Hillsborough and Banbridge:
- Listullycurran (the current western exit marked “Maze, Moira”);
- Gowdystown (just north of the Halfway House, marked “Dromore” to southeast);
- Skelton’s (marked “Blackskull, Donaghcloney” to west);
- Waringsford Rd (close to a quarry site just north of Banbridge); and
- upgrade to Castlewellan Rd from Banbridge.
Collectively, these would cost around £50 million.
Additionally, to complete the project, two more junctions would need to be planned and constructed between Loughbrickland and Dromantine (the latter a site for four relatively recent fatalities), something which on average would cost just another £25 million.
By the standards of road construction, £75 million is peanuts – just half the proposed York Street Interchange, for a road which would thus be made massively safer.
It is nothing short of criminal that this work has not already been completed. The five junctions should be constructed and the two remaining ones planned absolutely without delay. Such unnecessary loss of life is simply inexcusable.