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Parked: the radical plan aimed at getting Belfast's major roads moving again

By John Mulgrew

Published 20/10/2016

Heavy traffic on the M2 heading into Belfast, towards its intersection with the M3 and Westlink
Heavy traffic on the M2 heading into Belfast, towards its intersection with the M3 and Westlink

Belfast could be consigned to gridlock for a generation now that a massive £165m road project has been put on hold, it has been warned.

The York Street Interchange was intended to solve the city's increasing traffic problems.

It aimed to transform traffic flow where the Westlink, M2 and M3 converge.

And the bulk of the cash needed to build it, around 40%, was due to come from the EU.

There are now fears Belfast traffic will get worse, as other major road projects, such as the A6, make getting to the city easier. Last night, the news was branded a "disaster" for Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week this newspaper reported that Belfast is now the third most congested city in the UK.

It has now emerged that the Interchange project is on hold, and tenders for the work have stopped, according to a document released by Transport NI to potential bidders.

Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers fears the city will have to deal with another generation of major congestion. "I would say absolutely, yes. That's the big worry ... I would urge the Minister to have another look at this," he said.

The upgrade of the York Street Interchange aims to tackle the traffic gridlock which occurs daily.

As Northern Ireland's busiest junction, it carries 100,000 vehicles daily, mostly commuters to and from Belfast from around Co Antrim.

A tender for the project is valued at £100m, but it is thought the entire scheme could cost up to £165m. A spokesman for the Department for Infrastructure told the Belfast Telegraph: "The Minister has a range of capital priorities including four Executive flagship projects. Progress on these will be determined by the scale of resources available to him from the forthcoming Budget process. As a result, as the published procurement plan states, the procurement in relation to the York Street project is currently on hold."

A list from Transport NI indicates a total of 34 projects for which the tender process has already been completed, or a target date has been set. But the York Street project is the only one which is now on hold.

Mr Rodgers is due to meet with Transport Minister Chris Hazzard (right) today, and said he would raise the York Street Interchange concerns.

"We are losing business to the Republic of Ireland because it takes so long to get through. Freight companies are in a very competitive market. It's going to hit the docks," he added.

Ulster Unionist MLA and economy spokesman, Steve Aiken, said: "I am really frustrated by this. It's a complete and utter disaster for Northern Ireland. Of all things that would be close to shovel-ready, this is something we should do." And he warned of further implications for traffic in Belfast: "If we get the A6 complete, that will funnel more traffic down into the M2 where it can't be distributed.

"If you consider this also, the Port of Belfast needs the footprint of traffic to get bulk through to the Harbour. If it's going to be stuck on the Westlink or on the M2, it could impact on Northern Ireland exports."

Adrian Doran, chair of the CBI's infrastructure network, said news the plans are on hold was "unwelcome". He added that it "potentially damages both Belfast and Northern Ireland's economic competitiveness".

Belfast Telegraph

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