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Cuts could scupper upgrade of notorious A2 bottleneck

Spending cuts could put the brakes on a £60m scheme to unblock one of Northern Ireland’s worst traffic bottlenecks on which work is set to begin next year.

Stormont Roads Minister Conor Murphy has signalled an ‘amber light’ after more than 30 years of controversy and delay — and almost daily delays for thousands of motorists travelling into and out of Belfast.

But the project at the A2 in east Antrim might not move to a ‘green light’ status yet again.

Widening and improving the two-lane stretch from Jordanstown and Greenisland towards Carrickfergus could still be hit by the forthcoming public expenditure squeeze and the outcome of the next comprehensive spending round.

Department for Regional Development Minister Murphy told the Assembly however: “There is a determination to tackle the bottleneck (despite) the new Government in Britain’s proposals for constraints on the public purse.

“It will depend on the outcome of the forthcoming comprehensive spending review. I will not be in a position to confirm the Roads Service programme ... until the Executive have agreed the department’s budget.

“However, I intend to bid very strongly for the budget that is necessary for strategic road improvements. If the finances are available, delivery is expected to start in 2011-12, and the project should be completed in 2013.”

The project is likely to cause further traffic disruption, but Mr Murphy said the contract will be conditioned to manage traffic through the works and the B90 Upper Road, which runs parallel to the A2 — could help relieve some of the pressure.

East Antrim MLA Sean Neeson, who with others has campaigned for an improvement and widening of the A2 since the 1970s, said the current road situation is creating problems for businesses in Carrickfergus. “Like most people, I believed that the work would have started by now,” the former Alliance leader said.

“Even as far back as 1977, there were plans to extend the M5 to Carrickfergus, and, to this day, there is a large, open gap in the Greenisland housing estate that was set aside for the development of the motorway.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs jnr said: “Imagine if the road between Belfast and Bangor, which is four lanes in its entirety, had a two-lane section at some point and narrowed to a bottleneck. There would be uproar.”

DUP MLA David Hilditch added: “There is a flow of 30,000 vehicular movements on that road each day.

“Understandably, therefore, the issue will not simply go away. It has been a growing and burning issue since the 1970s.”

During the debate UUP MLA Ken Robinson told the minister that King William of Orange had problems on his journey between Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey. “Some 300 years have passed and we have not yet resolved that particular problem,” he quipped.

And Mr Murphy of Sinn Fein replied: “If I had known that we could have blocked King Billy, I might have taken action sooner. That could have saved us a lot of problems in later years.”

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