Posted by: wesleyjohnston | October 21, 2013

A26 dualling vs A6 dualling

I don’t have much time tonight, but I thought it would be useful to write a brief blog post to inform the inevitable debate around today’s decision to proceed with the A26 dualling scheme (Garryford to the A44 Drones Road junction, north of Ballymena). The two most plausible candidates for proceeding next were this scheme and the A6 dualling scheme (end of the M22 at Randalstown to Castledawson, ie the roads on either side of the Toome Bypass).

The reason it came down to these two schemes is that it was these two schemes (plus the smaller-scale A55 widening scheme at Knock in Belfast) which were closest to being ready to go to ground. There are many other schemes in the pipeline, but no others that are ready to go.

The two schemes are very similar in aim – both involve upgrading existing single-carriageway trunk A roads to dual-carriageway standard. Both schemes are clearly justified: indeed, the two are very similar in many ways. Yet there will be debate around this decision for at least two reasons:

1. The A26 serves Coleraine (among other places), while the A6 serves Derry (among other places). Therefore there will inevitably be accusations that this is a political decision favouring a unionist area over a nationalist one. (To be clear, I do not believe that this is the case as the decision can be adequately defended on factual grounds).

2. The A5 scheme would have benefitted Derry, and its postponement means there was an expectation that the next scheme to be brought forward ought to benefit Derry by way of compensation for this.

From reading the announcement in Stormont, the decision to proceed with the A26 over the A6 was prompted by two factors:

1. The A6 scheme is more expensive than the A26 scheme.
2. They are not prepared to fund the A6 scheme while the future of the postponed A5 scheme is not yet decided. This may mean that “it’s either the A5 or A6 but not both”, or it could mean that the A6 scheme is just too expensive to fund simultaneously with the A5.

I would caution against making points about this decision without first perusing relevant statistics. Here are some facts that commentators may find useful:

Statistic A6 A26
Length of upgrade 12.2km 7.0km
Cost of upgrade £100m-£120m est £61m
Cost per km £8.2m-£9.8m est £8.7m
Daily ave traffic levels 17,520-19,270 [3] Approx 18,000 [4]
Deaths 2004-2009 [1] 6 3
Deaths per km 2004-2009 0.49 0.43
Deaths since Jan 2012 [2] 1 0
Benefit/Cost Ratio 2.97 [5] 4.75 [6]
Other relevant points Public inquiry has been held, but one junction is still the subject of a planning application and possible separate public inquiry, which could delay the preparedness of this scheme. Outcome of public inquiry has not yet been published. Although this is expected very soon, we do not yet know if any significant issues were raised.

[1] Most recent set of statistics available
[2] Deaths from 1 January 2012 to 20 October 2013, my own records
[3] Figures for Moyola Bridge near Castledawson and Drumbeg, east of Toome respectively. 2009 traffic report.
[4] Roads Service Environmental Statement for A26 scheme: There is no permanent traffic counter on the stretch to be upgraded.
[5] Assuming central traffic growth.
[6] Assuming central traffic growth.



  1. So both roads have less than half the traffic that passes through Blaris and none of the huge delays either?

    • The rush hour delays on the A6 hitting Toome are legendary.

  2. “The A26 serves Coleraine (among other places), while the A6 serves Derry (among other places).”

    Is that the case though. The traffic between L/Derry and Limavady is pretty epic. Much more so than the A6. And upgrading the road north of Ballymena improves what is already a pretty good route into Belfast. Link that up with the A5 and you have the makings of a pretty powerful road system.

    • The Ulster loop so to speak with the M1, A4, A5 route and the M2 A26 route linked via Limavady and the to be up-rated junction at York Gate.

      I like the completeness of the idea but I can’t help but wonder if a direct dual link between Belfast and Derry should not be prioritised. It does strike me as an obvious not so easy win.

  3. Am I right in thinking that this ‘announcement’ – whilst signalling an intention – only contains enough money to build slightly over 1000m of the road in question?

    • The DRD needs funds for each year of an upgrade, and this is allocated sequentially. So this funding is enough for the first year of the project. However once it’s begun the Executive is contractually bound to the contractor carrying out the work, so it’s inconceivable that the remaining funds would not be made available each year, and this is what has happened on all other projects. Once the funding for year 1 is there and the contract is signed, it’s certain that the work will be completed.

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