£79.5m spent but work yet to begin on 'death trap' road in Northern Ireland
Nearly £6,000 a day is still being spent on Northern Ireland's biggest road project - even though work has been delayed for more than a decade.
The cost of the A5 Western Transport Corridor (A5WTC) has risen by almost £2.5m in the last 14 months, new figures show.
And the overall bill since the scheme was announced in 2007 has now reached £79.5m.
The project will upgrade the road from the border at Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone to Londonderry to a dual carriageway.
Some claim the existing road is not fit for purpose - pointing to the high number of accidents.
Last week three people died in the space of 24 hours on the A5.
However, the huge scheme remains in limbo amid legal wrangles and funding issues 11 years on.
According to figures from the Department for Infrastructure, the cost of the A5WTC project stood at £79,483,182 as of July.
That has risen by £2,480,386 since May 2017 - £5,822 a day over the 14-month period.
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who has been campaigning for the A5WTC to progress, voiced concern at the rising costs.
"This is a substantial amount of money considering not a single sod has been turned," he said.
When complete, the new A5 dual carriageway will run for 53 miles between Newbuildings, outside Londonderry, and Aughnacloy.
Back in 2007 the Executive agreed to proceed with the A5 project, with a preferred route announced in 2009.
The scheme was estimated to cost between £650m and £850m.
Around £400m was to come from the Irish government, although it withdrew most of its funding in November 2011.
It was decided to go ahead with the project in stages, but in April 2013 it suffered a further setback when a High Court judge quashed a decision to proceed.
In November 2015, following the Fresh Start Agreement, the Irish government said it was ready to provide £75m towards the A5.
Construction on phase one, from Newbuildings to Strabane, was due to begin earlier this year at a cost of £150m. But that was put on hold after fresh judicial review proceedings were launched by campaign group the Alternative A5 Alliance.
Last week that challenge was adjourned, meaning a further delay.
The current £79.5m bill includes:
- £48,976,214 on consultants;
- £20,382,401 on contractors;
- £3,933,357 on ground investigation;
- £2,866,638 on land-related costs, such as compensating landowners;
- £1,101,282.00 on public consultations and public inquiries;
- And £841,036 on archaeology.
Most of the expenditure in the last 14 months was on consultants.
The A5 remains one of Northern Ireland's most dangerous roads. Around 40 people have been killed on it since 2006.
Last Monday, an elderly couple from England died when the vehicle they were travelling in was involved in a collision with a lorry near Omagh.
Less than 24 hours later, Sean Reid (69) was killed in an accident on Great Northern Road in Omagh. His family described the road as "a death trap".
Mr McCrossan said the A5WTC must proceed immediately, and the impasse at Stormont was adding to the problems.
"We've had delay after delay, judicial review cases and landowners being compensated twice. This has to have added unnecessary costs of the scheme," he continued.
"It is imperative that the A5WTC scheme goes ahead without any more delays. It will increase connectivity to a deprived area, it will bring investment and importantly, it will help save countless lives. Only last week, three people lost their lives in what has become one of Ireland's most dangerous and treacherous roads.
"A dual carriageway will substantially reduce this death and carnage. The judicial review scheduled for next month will determine whether this money has been squandered. The political vacuum in Stormont is now the greatest threat to the project going ahead.
"The politicking now has to stop," Mr McCrossan said. "The DUP and Sinn Fein are now accountable for the delays and for the cost as each day passes without Stormont."
A Department for Infrastructure spokesperson said that "a scheme of the magnitude" of the A5WTC "inevitably involves a significant level of ongoing expenditure.
"A substantial portion of the spend on the scheme between May 2017 and end of July 2018 has been on development work that would allow construction of the first section of the scheme between New Buildings and north of Strabane to commence at the earliest opportunity.
"Construction work was intended to commence in January 2018; however that work has been delayed due to the ongoing legal challenge.
"The delay and disruption of the main construction works will inevitably result in further inflationary and re-programming costs."