30 years in making, A8 upgrade finally begins
It's been a wait that has stretched into decades — but at last the final stretch of the A8 Belfast to Larne road is being dualled.
Roads Minister Danny Kennedy cut the first sod on the £100m scheme which will see the road upgraded to dual carriageway between Coleman's Corner near Ballyclare and the A36 Shane’s Hill Road near Larne.
The northern stretch of the A8, leading to Larne Harbour, with a raised bridge over the town, was completed in 1977.
But it took another 30 years for any serious proposals to dual the rest of the important route to be made, when a 2007 offer to part-fund the scheme came from the Irish Republic — a deal that has since fallen by the wayside.
It meant that for more than 30 years drivers have been forced to trail along in the wake of slow-moving heavy goods vehicles as they made their way to and from the freight port.
Mr Kennedy said the works are of significant importance to the province’s economic development.
“Upgrading the A8 to dual carriageway will help grow the local economy and contribute to the wider economic development in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The A8 is a strategically significant European route, which provides an important east-west link between Northern Ireland and Scotland via Larne Port.”
The scheme involves upgrading 14.4km of the existing A8, between Coleman’s Corner roundabout and Ballyrickard Road, and incorporates a new roundabout at Shane’s Hill Road, as well as a number of junctions and bridges along the scheme, which will provide access to the new road.
The development spells good news for commuters who take the route in and out of Belfast daily.
The scheme seeks to improve journey times for this stretch of the A8 and the Department for Regional Development says it will improve the safety of the route.
Construction of the scheme, by the joint venture of Lagan, Ferrovial and Costain, started in August this year and the works are expected to finish in spring 2015.
“Site works are ongoing which include the erection of temporary fencing, archaeology digs and other enabling works along the scheme,” Mr Kennedy said.
“I would like to acknowledge the impact that this scheme has had on the affected landowners. In some cases this impact has been significant in terms of land loss.”
However, campaigners against the upgrade still argue that the scheme is too costly and does not take account of dwindling traffic levels on the route.
Ballynure farmer Jimmy Mills, whose land could be affected by the road, said: “If they’d like to come out today and stand by the road and count each car that goes past and justify the money they are spending on such an elaborate scheme, I think they would be embarrassed. There’s absolutely no economic justification.”