New £165m Belfast road junction will increase accidents by 31%, inquiry told
Road accidents will increase by almost a third if an ambitious plan for Northern Ireland's busiest junction goes ahead, a public inquiry has heard.
The £165m proposal faced growing criticism yesterday as objectors claimed a series of flaws in the motorway interchange plans would increase risks to the public.
Used by 100,000 vehicles a day, Belfast's York Street junction links the M2, M3 and the Westlink and is a source of frustration for motorists who have to battle congestion to get from one motorway to the other.
It is predicted that the construction will take three to five years at a cost of £125-165m.
The aim of the scheme is to remove the bottleneck on this main arterial route and reduce congestion through large-scale infrastructure features, such as underpasses and new bridges.
The public inquiry into the Department of Regional Development (DRD) plan revealed it had received a total of 38 objections, including concerns for pedestrians and cyclists as well as the impact on local residents.
It has also emerged that AECom consultants, who stand to receive £11m in public money for their work on the scheme, predict it will result in a 31% increase in road traffic accidents.
This was confirmed by Russell Brissland, a civil engineer who oversees traffic and economic issues within the scheme.
It also emerged that a consultancy firm which carried out the road safety audit in May last year was the same firm that designed the scheme.
Barrister Joe Brolly, who represents a business improvement firm, was among those who criticised the plans.
Mr Brolly is appearing on behalf of Vector, a firm which claims it can reduce traffic waiting times by almost 40%, simply by re-routing it at a cost of £1m.
He told the inquiry there were big problems with 'weaving' - where traffic veering right and traffic veering left must cross paths within a limited distance.
"Perhaps the most critical aspect of all of this is that in the road safety audit last year a problem was identified in the weaving length at the end of the Westlink as you head on to the M3," he said.
"The road safety audit identifies serious problems with the weaving distance when you come to that area."
Andrew McGuinness, a legal representative for the consultancy firm, said: "Yes, there were concerns raised in regards to movement of traffic."
The road safety audit says that there is a potential for a significant amount of conflict between merging traffic from Clifton Street to the M3 in the proposed scheme.
Mr Brolly continued: "They considered this merging too complex and recommended Clifton Street to close," he told the hearing.
However, the current proposal has kept Clifton Street despite the audit saying it was too dangerous.
"After you discovered that the closure would lead to significant, adverse impacts on the economic performance of the scheme and render it economically unviable, your solution was, 'let's build it anyway,'" Mr Brolly added.
Michael Megarry, who oversees the development, confirmed that there had been no analysis of future accidents on this road.
"So you have no idea what's going to happen there or how many accidents there will be?
"You are hoping for the best. You have no idea what's going to happen on the busiest road in Northern Ireland," Mr Brolly added.
The public inquiry continues today.