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10,000 more peak time journeys every hour' for busiest roads in Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 16/11/2016

Fears are growing that Belfast's already clogged-up roads are set for even worse congestion
Fears are growing that Belfast's already clogged-up roads are set for even worse congestion

Fears are growing that Belfast's already clogged-up roads are set for even worse congestion.

Transport officials estimate peak travel times are en route for an extra 10,000 journeys every hour.

In a bid to ease the traffic paralysis, Roads Minister Chris Hazzard has ordered a new emphasis on cycling - and on walking.

Departmental deputy secretary John McGrath told an Assembly committee the roads network is already operating "at capacity" - with limited opportunities for further expansion.

But Minister Hazzard - who yesterday confirmed the go-ahead for the £130million York Street Interchange scheme, hours after it was revealed in the Belfast Telegraph - has been accused of "hokey cokey politics".

The project is aimed at easing the biggest traffic bottleneck in Belfast - the junction of the Westlink, M2 and M3 - although doubts over its funding and when the work will begin make it a race against time as traffic levels continue to mount.

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said: "First the Minister cast doubt on the viability because of Brexit, now he's issuing a notice of intention to proceed. Hokey cokey decision making doesn't provide stability or certainty. We want this interchange built, it's the only junction with traffic lights between Randalstown and Cork but what faith can anyone have that this Minister will deliver?"

Mr McGrath said: "Estimates in Belfast as a result of currently planned developments suggest an additional 10,000 journeys per hour during the peak hour.

"The road network is operating at capacity, and there are limited opportunities to increase that. Therefore, we must all look to other solutions if we are to ensure that the resulting congestion and increase in journey times do not constrain growth, prosperity and inclusion."

The senior civil servant added: "Ultimately, our aim is to reduce demand on the road network, reduce congestion and reduce travel times so as to generate and realise the wider economic, environmental and societal benefits for all of Northern Ireland."

But Mr Hazzard was warned his planned emphasis on increased walking and cycling will not work.

Alliance MLA Kellie Armstong said: "Unfortunately, in quite a lot of areas, walking is impossible because of the dangerous nature of rural roads and the lack of street lighting."

DUP MLA Alex Easton added: "I do not think that your cycling strategy is working. In Bangor, along the dual carriageway, over £100,000 was spent creating a bicycle path along the footpath, but nobody uses it."

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