Belfast Telegraph

Gridlock Belfast: Roadworks and 'Back to School Monday' spell traffic hell

By Chris Kilpatrick

Thousands across the Northern Ireland face lengthy traffic delays today as schools here open their front gates for the new term and scores return to work following the summer holidays.

The morning rush hour is expected to be the busiest of the year, bringing the worst delays and lengthy traffic jams.

Motorists travelling in Belfast are being warned to give themselves extra travel time due to ongoing work to bus lanes.

That coupled with current road works taking place on busy routes across the city could make it a Monday to forget for many.

Green Party leader and Stormont MLA Steven Agnew said it is the worst time of the year to be doing road works.

“Every effort has to be made to ensure roadworks are carried out outside of rush hour,” he said.

“There’s a wider issue with the school run in that perhaps we haven’t invested well enough in public transport in the past.

“We know this is coming every year and we should plan around it as much as possible.”

He added: “We have to recognise that the first week of school is always slightly worse with children starting new schools.

“So, maybe some of those pupils will not be travelling by car in the longer term; at the start they may do until they get to know their way around. Really, it’s the worst possible time to be doing roadworks.”

The Department of Regional Development (DRD) has been improving the public transport network over the summer to give increased priority to bus users, pedestrians and cyclists.

However, work on the Belfast on the Move initiative is not quite finished and motorists are being warned about delays, particularly at peak times.

“Drivers visiting Belfast should be especially aware of the current road improvement works in the city centre. About 60% of traffic currently using the streets at the front and back of City Hall is through traffic with no destination within the city centre,” said a spokesperson.

“Roads Service urges drivers who do not need to travel via the city centre to use alternative routes such as the M3, Westlink and the Outer Ring Road (A55).”

New bus lanes are operating in Oxford Street and East Bridge Street — with more planned for May Street, Donegall Square South and Howard Street over the next month. Meanwhile, road resurfacing on May Street, Donegall Square South and Howard Street that began yesterday, will last for about two weeks.

The DRD said around 30,000 vehicles per day travel through the city centre on the roads in front and behind the City Hall.

UUP MLA Robin Swann called for motorists to exercise caution.

“I appeal to all drivers to apply extra care and attention now that the new school year is commencing,” he said. “Extra vigilance and caution is needed to avoid endangering the lives of young school pupils, especially during school- run times, both in the mornings and evenings.

“As a driver myself, I see the dangers on a daily basis but in particular at this time of the year when there are so many children starting new schools.”

A Translink spokeswoman said: “More people choosing the bus over car helps to free up road space for users and is the way forward for a better city.

“We have opened a number of park and ride facilities at major bus and rail stations throughout Northern Ireland over the past 18 months which makes it even easier for our customers to interchange between car, train or bus.”

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