A5 upgrade to start next year and be finished by 2028... if no more legal obstacles emerge
Northern Ireland's biggest road project may not be completed until 2028 - more than 20 years after the long-awaited upgrade was originally given the green light.
The A5 Western Transport Corridor (A5WTC) was announced in 2007 and will upgrade the road from the border at Aughnacloy, Co Tyrone, to Londonderry to a dual carriageway.
However, the huge scheme remains in limbo amid legal wrangles and funding issues over the last decade.
Some claim the existing A5 road is not fit for purpose, pointing to the high number of accidents.
Almost 20 people have been killed on it in the past four years.
Elected representatives on Fermanagh and Omagh District Council have been told by the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) that it is now progressing with work to enable a fresh decision on the scheme to be taken.
The Ulster Herald reported that councillors were given an update on the progress of the flagship scheme at a meeting in Enniskillen's town hall last week.
Acting divisional roads manager David McKinley told members that, subject to various considerations, construction work on the project could start in 2020. He added that, subject to further legal challenges, the entire scheme could be completed in 2028.
The DfI said it is currently working through more than 200 responses to an addendum to the environment statement that was published in May.
It said the next step would "likely" be a new public inquiry into the scheme.
At that point, and in the continued absence of an Executive at Stormont, the department will consider whether to issue a decision, taking account of the relevant legislation.
"Subject to these considerations, construction work could start in 2020, which from my engineering point of view, is a terrific prospect," Mr McKinley said.
He stressed that the A5 remained a flagship project and funding was "not considered to be an obstacle".
In November 2015, following the Fresh Start Agreement, the Irish Government committed to provide £75m towards the A5 over a three-year period.
Sinn Fein's West Tyrone MP Orfhlaith Begley said it is vital the road upgrade is delivered as soon as possible.
"The completion of the A5 will not only improve road safety but will also provide a vital boost to the economic regeneration of the wider north west," she said.
"The A5 project has received widespread support and Sinn Fein will continue to lobby the Department for Infrastructure and the Irish Government to ensure work begins and the project is delivered urgently."
But West Tyrone SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who has been campaigning for the A5 project to progress, blamed Sinn Fein and the DUP for allowing objectors to bring lengthy and unnecessary legal cases.
He said: "The failure of these two political parties to form a power-sharing Executive has already caused considerable delays, expense and unnecessary deaths.
"If we continue with the status quo, it could be tens of years before the full scheme is completed. The completion of the A5 road is of fundamental importance to the people living in the west and north west of this island.
"Not only will it save countless lives, but it will also open up investment and improve connectivity here."
He added: "For far too long this area has suffered neglect, and now, when investment finally comes, political squabble is blocking it."