The first of the Stormont Executive’s hat-trick of major roads projects — the A8 to Larne — has been given the go-ahead.
The £100m project on the carriageway between Belfast and the port town will cut travelling time by five minutes when completed, transport minister Danny Kennedy revealed.
Work on the nine-mile stretch of dual carriageway will involve a bypass of the village of Ballynure. The improved link between the M2 motorway and the busy freight harbour will also skirt around the town of Bruslee.
The £11m-per-mile scheme will see the A8 upgraded from the Coleman's Corner roundabout near Ballyclare to just outside Larne. It will connect the parts of the A8 that are already dual carriageway.
Construction is due to get under way next month and will involve a consortium of contractors including Lagan, Ferrovial and Costain. Completion is expected to take two and a half years.
The project was given the go ahead after business owners in Ballynure, who said the £100m upgrade would rob their village of passing trade, were overruled.
Regional Development Minister Kennedy argued there would be a huge net benefit to the economy overall, including a boost for the beleaguered construction industry.
The A8 is one of three multi-million-pound schemes approved by the Executive — the others being the A2 Shore Road through Greenisland and the scaled-down A5 from Londonderry to Aughnacloy. Cash for the two projects through east Antrim came in part from the reduced version of the A5 after the Irish Government said it could no longer afford to co-finance a much larger original scheme.
Mr Kennedy yesterday approved the precise route for the A8 which will connect the M2 motorway with the port of Larne — the second largest in the province.
He announced his decision after considering a detailed road inspection report and a public inquiry into the plan.
The road currently carries more than 17,000 vehicles per day, and with traffic levels set to continue growing, traffic congestion would increase and road safety deteriorate in the years ahead.
“This will help reduce journey times, improve road safety along the A8 and help the development of the port of Larne,” Mr Kennedy said. “As part of the Trans European Network, the A8 is a strategically significant route, which provides an important east-west link between Northern Ireland and Scotland — via the port of Larne.
“In the current economic climate, the commencement of this dual carriageway will be welcome news for the construction industry and when completed, contribute to the overall economic development of Northern Ireland.”
The Port of Larne company said it had been waiting for the dual carriageway to be completed for many years.
“A major strategic investment like this is made not just for today or tomorrow, but for the future.”
The report on the project — which was announced in 2007 — made more than 130 recommendations including keeping Church Road open, the removal of the Rushvale Road/Calhame Road link and the provision of agricultural crossing facilities.