Posted by: wesleyjohnston | October 1, 2015

Northern Ireland Road Construction Programme – the past ten years reviewed

2015 is a good time to take stock of where we are with the road construction programme in Northern Ireland because it is in 2015 that the three major plans which have given structure to the programme for the past decade finally run out. 2005 saw the publication of three detailed transport plans; detailed in the sense that they named actual schemes and gave actual costs and timescales. These were:

  • The Belfast Metropolitan Transport Plan (BMTP) – covering Belfast plus North Down, Castlereagh, Newtownabbey, Lisburn and Carrickfergus (oddly not Newtownards).
  • The Regional Strategic Transport Network Transport Plan (RSTN-TP) – covering trunk roads outside the greater Belfast area.
  • The Sub-Regional Transportation Plan (SRTP) – covering plans for roads that aren’t trunk roads, usually local roads. I am not going to refer to this plan again as it only covers localised road schemes whereas the focus of this blog is on strategic, i.e. major, road schemes.

These plans covered the ten years from 2005, and so officially expire in 2015. To date nothing with this level of detail has been produced to replace them. Other policy documents are still in force, including the “Regional Development Strategy 2035” published in 2012, and the “Ensuring a Sustainable Transport Future – A New Approach to Regional Transportation” document, also published in 2012, which sets current transport policy. However both are very high-level documents and lack detailed proposals. The three plans above are the most detailed plans we have, and they are now about to expire without a replacement of a similar level of detail.

Looking back at these plans, it is instructive to see how many of the proposals have actually been implemented.

The BMTP, first of all, contains five major schemes for implementation by 2015. Three of these – the M1/Westlink upgrade, the M2 upgrade and the A2 dualling at Greenisland have all been implemented. However two remain unbuilt:

  • A2 Sydenham Bypass widening, Belfast
  • A55 Outer Ring widening at Knock, Belfast

So that’s 3 out of 5 for the BMTP.

However, it is also interesting to note that some schemes, such as the dualling of the A8 and York Street Interchange are entirely absent from the BMTP, because they were proposed after the BMTP was created. This demonstrates that the absence of a specific proposal from a strategic plan does not rule out the proposal from nevertheless happening during the period of that plan. Thus the A8 dual-carriageway was completed within the timeframe of the BMTP despite not being in it.

The RSTN-TP contains the largest number of proposals. Ignoring schemes that were actually completed by the time the RSTN-TP was published in 2005, there are 32 separate road proposals in the RSTN-TP (two of which are duplicates from the BMTP). Of these, 23 have been completed or are under construction, including the works to the A1, A4 and A8. One other was rendered redundant by the later proposal to dual the entire A5 (namely, Strabane Bypass Phase 3). That leaves eight unimplemented plans which are:

  • A2 Buncrana Road widening, Derry
  • A3 Armagh North and West Link
  • A5 Strabane to Lifford Link Road (delayed due to delay in the A5 dualling scheme)
  • A6 dualling Castledawson to Randalstown
  • A6 Dungiven Bypass
  • A24 Ballynahinch Bypass
  • A28 Armagh East Link
  • A29 Cookstown Bypass

Pattern of Implementation across Northern Ireland

So this tells us that of the 35 individual road scheme proposals in the RSTN and BMTP together, 24 were actually completed during the ten year plan period. That’s an implementation rate of 69%. Is this pattern the same across Northern Ireland, or are there regional discrepancies? For this, we need to refer to the five “Key Transportation Corridors”. These are the five main transport conduits identified by the DRD as the most important components of the road network in Northern Ireland. These are supplemented by “Link Corridors”, which are important supporting links between the five key corridors. Then there are other “trunk roads” which are also important roads, but not quite as critical. They are all shown on this map (taken from the Regional Transportation Strategy):

Northern Ireland Key Transportation Corridors

The Eastern Corridor runs from Larne to the border at Newry via Belfast, taking in the A8, parts of the M2 and M1, the Westlink and the A1. All 8 of the proposals for this corridor have been implemented, namely the three final sections of the A1 dual-carriageway, the Ballynure Link Road, the M1/Westlink upgrade, the M2 upgrade and the first package of grade-separated junctions on the A1. That is a 100% implementation rate.

The Northern Corridor runs from Derry to Antrim via Coleraine, taking in the A26, A37 and A2. All 3 of the proposals for this corridor have been implemented or commenced, namely the A26-M2 direct link at Ballymena, the A2 Maydown dualling in Derry and the dualling of the A26 from Glarryford to Drones Road (currently underway). If we count this last scheme, this is also a 100% implementation rate.

The North-Western Corridor runs from Antrim to Derry along the A6. Only 3 of the proposals for this corridor have been implemented, namely the Skeoge Link in Derry, dualling the Crescent Link in Derry and upgrading junction 7 on the M2 at Antrim (a relatively small scheme). The three unimplemented schemes are:

  • A6 Dungiven Bypass
  • A6 dualling Randalstown to Castledawson
  • A2 widening of Buncrana Road, Derry (although urban schemes like this are fast falling out of favour so it is questionable whether it will actually happen)

This is only a 50% implementation rate, especially so given that the two most expensive schemes on the list (A6 from Randalstown to Castledawson and the A6 Dungiven Bypass) remain unbuilt.

The South-Western Corridor runs from Lisburn to Enniskillen and on to the border via the M1 and A4. Of the 4 proposals for this corridor, all 4 have been implemented, namely the A4 dualling from Dungannon to Ballygawley, the A4 realignment at Annaghilla, the A32 Cherrymount Link in Enniskillen and the A4 Sligo Road improvement, also in Enniskillen. 100% implementation rate.

The Western Corridor runs from Derry to Aughnacloy via Omagh and Strabane along the A5. It is the hardest to assess. Only 2 of the 4 proposals have been carried out, namely the A5 Omagh Throughpass Phase 3 and the A5 realignment at Tullyvar. However, the two unimplemented schemes have not been carried out either because they were rendered redundant by the major A5 dualling scheme (which was announced after these plans were created) or cannot be implemented ahead of it for logistical reasons:

  • A5 Strabane Bypass Phase 3 (now redundant)
  • A5 Strabane to Lifford Link Road (cannot happen ahead of the major A5 project).

Nevertheless, it is the case that the major A5 scheme that superseded these proposals has not happened either, so I still think it is fair to count these as “unimplemented” schemes. Therefore I will give the Western corridor a 50% implementation rate.

The Link Corridors performed fairly poorly, with only 1 of the 4 proposals being carried out, namely the A29 realignment at Carland in Co Tyrone. The three unimplemented schemes are:

  • A3 Armagh North and West Link
  • A28 Armagh Eastern Link
  • A29 Cookstown Bypass

So this is a 25% implementation rate.

Finally, the thunk roads cover road proposals for the remaining trunk road network. There were 5 proposals here, only 2 of which have been implemented, namely the A20 Frederick Street Link in Newtownards (a fairly small scheme) and the A31 Magherafelt Bypass (currently under construction). The 3 unimplemented schemes are:

  • A2 Sydenham Bypass dualling, Belfast
  • A24 Ballynahinch Bypass
  • A55 Outer Ring widening at Knock, Belfast

This represents a 40% implementation rate.

Conclusion

We can conclude that there is a geographic disparity in the way in which road schemes have been implemented here over the past ten years, though it is not the simple East-West divide that is sometimes assumed. Rather we can conclude these key points:

  • Schemes on link corridors were the least likely to be built, with a 25% implementation rate. Note that 2 of the 3 unbuilt schemes are in Armagh.
  • Schemes on trunk roads were the next least likely to be built, with a 40% implementation rate. Note that 2 of the 3 unbuilt schemes are in Belfast.
  • Schemes on the A5 Western Transport Corridor and the A6 North-Western Corridor are next least likely to have been built, with a 50% implementation rate. Schemes on the road from Belfast to Derry are the most notably absent from the list of implemented schemes.
  • Schemes on the Eastern Corridor, the Northern Corridor and the South-Western Corridor have all had 100% implementation rates. Note that all the schemes on the South-Western Corridor have been in either Tyrone or Fermanagh.
  • It is probably fair to say that the Western Transport Corridor and the North-Western Corridor have been neglected during the ten years 2005-2015, so it follows that it is also fair that priority should be given to schemes on these corridors when moving forward.
  • Some major new schemes have been added to the list of proposed roads since these plans were published in 2005 and have progressed rapidly through the processes to the point that they are now very advanced. The most notable are the A5 and A8 dualling schemes (already discussed), the York Street Interchange in Belfast and further safety improvements to the A1. While priorities always change over time, the previous point about the Western and North-Western Transport Corridors does need to be taken into account when deciding where these new schemes should slot into the schedule.
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Responses

  1. Is it possible to estimate road investment for longer than the past 10 years? How about going back 20 years or even 50 years. Would there be different conclusions?

    • It would be a lot of work – you could go back to 1973 provided you were able to ascertain the road plans that existed then and the priorities that drove the work. Certainly the motorway network planned in 1973 remains mostly unbuilt. Before 1973 there was no centralised authority for building roads so it would be very difficult to assess the period earlier than that in a systematic way.


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