More than 40 people have lost their lives on a North West road since upgrade plans were first put forward 15 years ago
Fifteen years, more than 40 deaths and £84m pounds — these are just some of the damning statistics surrounding the ‘treacherous’ A5 road.
Plans to upgrade the road were first put forward in 2007 — 15 years ago — and, since then, £84m has been spent on the as-yet-realised project.
While legal challenges, delays, and appeals have come and gone over the years, around 42 lives have been lost on the A5 since 2006.
The A5 upgrade would see the route from Londonderry to the border at Aughnacloy transformed into a dual carriageway and is estimated to cost around £1.2bn. Stormont’s Department for Infrastructure (DfI) has said breaking ground on the project could start in 2023.
Travelling on the road from Co Derry, you are surrounded by rolling fields and the stunning vistas this island is famous for; however, you can also see why the road is so dangerous.
Countless small roads feed onto the A5, creating hazards with passing traffic on the route, while there is also a lack of places to overtake, leading some drivers to take chances.
Back in 2007, the Irish Government pledged to fund the development of dual carriageway schemes across Northern Ireland — including the A5 — to the tune of £400m.
The following year, however, saw the financial crash and in 2011 Dublin pulled the proposed funding.
A series of legal challenges have been mounted over the years by a group called the Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A), which is made up of landowners along the route.
The group has repeatedly objected to the plans as “contrary to the common sense needs” of those in the area.
“We implore the Department for Infrastructure to take that leap of faith and replace the proposed road scheme with the reinstatement of the railway and at the same time upgrade the existing A5 road with additional passing opportunities and other affordable general improvements,” it has said.
“This approach will go a long way to relieving the stress of upwards of 300 farmers and property owners who, for the past decade or more, have had their properties blighted by the threat to carve a great chunk of some 3,000 acres of farmland along the path of the A5.”
Strabane SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan says that, no matter what their religious or political background is, the vast majority of the people right across his constituency are in support of the upgrade and there is just this small minority who are against it.
“Everyone of us — my family, friends and those I see everyday — are at risk on this road. I don’t think the objectors fully understand the amount of hurt and pain that has been caused on that road and how many lives could have been saved had this objections not taken place,” he says.
“My appeal to the objectors is to come out and speak to us. We need to have a discussion. If they have concerns about a specific area we can work to navigate around it.
“I don’t actually know what their alternative is, they simply want to upgrade sections of it, which will not be sufficient in any way, shape or form.
“I would ask them to think of all the families of those who have died on that road, on their way to work, taking their kids to school, out for a walk. Young people who may have only passed their driving test.
“There are a range of circumstances, but this road doesn’t discriminate, it has impacted people of all walks of life and all backgrounds. We’re talking about 42 people who have died on the A5 since the upgrade was announced, in circumstances that may have been entirely preventable.
“Every single funeral I attend, you can feel the hurt in the room and I ask myself, ‘How many more funerals am I going to have attend because of this bloody road?’
“How many more families, parents, grandparents, mothers, fathers and parish priests am I going to have to look in the eye and say, ‘I am pushing as hard as I can to get this road delivered?’”
Speaking to Mr Crossan outside his constituency office, one local man strolled by and, when he heard we were talking about the A5 upgrade, he simply rolled his eyes and said: “When are they going to get round to sorting that road?”
As part of 2015’s Fresh Start Agreement, the Irish Government said it was ready to provide £75m towards the first phase of the A5 upgrade.
The project was also featured in 2018’s New Decade, New Approach deal, but a series of inquiries and appeals for and against the scheme resulted in further delays. In the spring of 2020 there was a public inquiry, followed by an interim report by the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC), which was published last year.
The PAC found that the scheme did not have an up-to-date flood risk assessment and said that, while the upgraded road would have economic benefits and improve road safety, it would also have a landscape and climate impact, and also affect some communities.
Last year it was announced that the scheme would be subject to further consultation before it can be progressed.
Since 2007, £84m has been spent on the project, mainly on consultants and legal fees.
One Omagh business owner, Mervyn Taylor, runs an outdoors store along the route and says he doesn’t think the whole road needs upgraded, but rather certain sections.
“There does need to be more places to pass, because that’s one of the big problems. People are getting stuck behind slow moving vehicles and taking chances,” he says.
“There are definitely places that are more dangerous than others. Also, you have to remember that there are loads of businesses that look on to the road that rely on the passing trade. If the road was turned into a dual carriageway, all those places would go out of business.”
The outline business case for the A5 upgrade scheme estimated that, over the 60-year period to 2078, the upgrade would see accidents on the A5 reduced by 2,016 (5%) and there would be 2,748 fewer casualties, compared to previous years’ data. The estimated casualty savings included 19 fewer fatalities on the road (a 4% reduction) and 315 fewer serious injuries.
Father Michael O’Dwyer, parish priest of St Matthew’s Church in Garvaghy, officiated the funeral of Nathan Corrigan, who died along with two of his friends following a crash on the A5 on December 27.
He took the opportunity to call on the Executive to prioritise the long-awaited upgrade of the road.
He explained to the Belfast Telegraph that he had previously seen one parishioner knocked down and killed crossing the road on the way to mass one Saturday evening and felt he needed to highlight the issue.
“The A5 is what I would call our front street, we’re always on it, going to the shops, church or whatever. I thought I couldn’t not mention the dangers of the A5 in the hopes that something might come out of it,” he says.
“Even looking here just outside the church where the three young men were killed, there’s seven junctions nearby and people are always rushing to get somewhere.
“These are close knit communities and these tragedies have a terrible impact on them. The loss of life, especially when it could be avoided.
“The Dungannon to Ballygawley road used to be a death trap also. It was upgraded and reopened [in 2010] and since then there has only been one death on the road.”
Regarding concerns about the spiralling costs of the A5 upgrade, Fr O’Dwyer said: “You can’t put a price on a life. The A5 upgrade is a pro-life issue. We talk about babies in the womb, that’s pro-life, but pro-life is after the womb as well. We have to keep people safe after they’re born, we are all priceless.”
A spokesperson for the Department of Infrastructure said: “The minister is fully committed to the A5WTC flagship project which is of significant strategic importance to the west, helping to tackle regional imbalance, improve the local economy and job opportunities for local communities and critically improve road safety.
“An interim report from the PAC on its findings from the public inquiry held in February and March 2020 requested further assessments in relation to flood risk and scheme alternatives and that these be incorporated into a further addendum to the environmental statement to be published for public consultation.
“Work is ongoing to complete the new environmental statement addendum so that the public inquiry could be re-convened this year.
“A final report from the PAC public inquiry should then allow a new ministerial decision to be taken and subject to the successful completion of the necessary statutory processes and environmental assessments, the construction of phase 1A of this important strategic and road safety scheme could then commence.”