Roads bosses are under pressure to shift disruptive roadworks on a busy Belfast city centre road to night-time as thousands of motorists struggle with a second week of traffic jams.
The Department for Regional Development (DRD) has been urged to consider a rethink on the timing of work on controversial bus lane changes which are being introduced through its Belfast On The Move plan.
Complicated bus lane changes already in force, combined with work being carried out to create future bus lanes, are being blamed for severe disruption.
But the DRD has ruled out night-time work, pointing to an extra financial cost of such a move.
Motorists have been up in arms since the start of last week when the new changes came in to force.
But commuters using the Great Victoria Street/College Avenue route towards Millfield have faced the extra misery of a set of roadworks causing lengthy tailbacks.
The work has reduced traffic to one lane on the carriageway approaching Millfield. Motorists also face lane restrictions on the southbound carriageway, heading towards the city centre, at off-peak times. It will create a new bus lane between Millfield and Wellington Place, heading towards the city, when it is completed.
A DRD spokeswoman confirmed it received 14 complaints — as well as seven letters of support — about the Belfast On The Move project since traffic problems started last Monday.
The department is now fielding calls to transfer the operation to quieter, night-time hours to avoid the busy rush hour. Retailers yesterday spoke of concerns that traffic chaos was deterring shoppers from coming in to the city centre.
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), said he is asking DRD to consider retiming the works.
“I think it’s a very fair and legitimate question to ask why they could not be done at night,” he said. “I’m surprised they did not arrange to do it at night.”
Joe Jordan, president of the Belfast Chamber of Trade and Commerce, which also represents retailers, added: “There’s a perception out there by the general population that Belfast is difficult to access at the moment.”
DRD has ruled out the option, however, pointing to financial considerations. The spokeswoman said: “Considerations include availability of materials at night-time, the health and safety of the workforce and justification of the considerable additional cost that would be involved.
“We have to take account of the area that works are taking place in, and in the case of College Avenue, it is close to existing residential properties where night-time noise would be unacceptable.”
Night-time roadworks are carried out in some circumstances. Just last week, roadworks at the junction of the Ravenhill Road and Ardenlee Avenue in the south of the city were carried out in the evening.
The Belfast On The Move project hit the headlines last week when its first major test saw the morning rush hour grind to a complete halt.
Commuters were left infuriated after journeys of just a few miles took well over an hour to complete.
The project is a masterplan to improve the city’s transport network. The net result is more space for public transport, pedestrians and cyclists, but significantly less room for motorists. Drivers have so far struggled to adapt.