Sprucefield congestion a concern but A5 'is still the priority'
Roads Minister Chris Hazzard has come under pressure over Northern Ireland's worst daily traffic "bottleneck" - at Sprucefield, near Lisburn.
Ulster Unionist Jenny Palmer told the Infrastructure Minister that every morning traffic is "bumper to bumper" for more than 25 miles from Loughbrickland to Belfast.
She argued that given the focus on the major planned routes of the A5 and A6 west of the Bann, the south-east is the "poor relation" in Northern Ireland.
SDLP MLA Justin McNulty argued the congestion was partly due to poor rail provision from Newry forcing people into their cars.
The exchange came at a meeting of the Assembly committee which is to monitor the new Department, which replaces the former Department for Regional Development.
Lagan Valley MLA Mrs Palmer said: "It is the Sprucefield bottleneck that creates that mess coming into the city. I just do not know why no priority is given to dealing with those bottlenecks. Belfast comes to a standstill.
"We cannot just ignore one strategic link road across the island because of the A5 and have the complete budget spent on that. We need to address all the arterial routes along the island."
Newry and Armagh MLA Mr McNulty added: "Thousands upon thousands of people in my constituency get in their car every morning to travel to Belfast because there is inadequate rail provision."
Minister Hazzard said, however: "On the specific point of the A5, let me be clear: to a large extent, there has been a deficit in investment in infrastructure in the west for the best part of 50 or 60 years. Yes, there may be issues regarding congestion around Sprucefield that we need to look at. For me, it is not an either/or situation.
"The A5 and the A6 are strategic projects for this region and the north west up into Donegal. They are major transport routes from Dublin, so they will remain a priority for the department and me going forward."