No excuse not to upgrade NI A1 immediately

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.

I am not the only one to have noticed.

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.

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6 thoughts on “No excuse not to upgrade NI A1 immediately

  1. Mary Martin says:

    Also the A26 from M22 to Ballymena, and the part just north of Ballymena, should have the same treatment. There are deaths on the part to the south of Ballymena most years.

  2. Yes, that’s correct Mary. Two within the last few months sadly, IIRC.

    The reason I rage about the A1 is that part of it was only built in 2006 when this problem was indisputable (whereas the section you speak of was built last century). Also, there are already plans to sort out most of the A1 – they simply need to be put into action; no such plans yet exist for the A26. But of course they should…

    • Mary Martin says:

      Strictly speaking, that part of the A26 was built in three phases: 89, 99, and 2001. If it had been delayed 20 years to 2009 (when we began to insist on high quality dualling), or started 20 years earlier in 1969 (in the form of the original M2 plans), we would have had a much better road!

  3. Myrtle says:

    Hard to dispute any of that IJ.

    Is there any reason that the A1 can’t be a motorway as originally envisioned ?

    Having a road upgrade policy based on things like safety or user volume would be a bonus for NI. There is a real human cost to the orange green road building such as the eccentric obsession with the A5.

    • On the A1, in theory there is no reason at all – any road can be declared a motorway. In practice, motorway status is only applied to new-build roads built to certain standards; it is almost never applied to an upgrade of an existing road (like most of the A1) because there is no alternative route for lower-power vehicles. To build most of it “online” was unbelievably short-sighted, but it is where we are. Only the Newry Bypass was built offline (i.e. not using the existing road), and thus only it could really be designated motorway. At a push, the Loughbrickland-Newry stretch does by chance have an alternative route (the A27) and thus, if the junctions were built to sufficient standard, could also be designated motorway by my reckoning.

      On the A5, I agree. There is a safety and economic case for Omagh-Ballygawley (where, tragically, there was a fatality this week), but the rest of it is as daft a pipe dream as the wild Unionist proposals of the early ’60s!

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