Belfast Telegraph

Too many lives lost: MLA calls for safety of major Northern Ireland road to be improved

By Andrew Madden

A scheme to increase safety on the A1 should be brought forward sooner than planned, an SDLP MLA has said.

Newry and Armagh representative Justin McNulty was speaking following two major crashes on the road this week in the less than 24 hours.

On Wednesday afternoon two people were taken to hospital following a two-vehicle crash involving a car and a tanker on the road near Newry.

Then, on Thursday morning, the road was again closed in both directions after a lorry overturned on the northbound carriageway near Sheepsbridge.

The lorry toppled over onto the southbound carriageway, shedding its load, and hitting another car.

Only minor injuries were reported.

"Thankfully there were no fatalities on this occasion, but there have been too many lives lost on this stretch of road over recent years," Mr McNulty said.

The SDLP representative said the Department for Infrastructure has drawn up plans to improve safety along the road and politicians had been briefed on these proposals before Christmas.

The plans will see all central reservation crossing on the route closed, preventing u-turns and right turning out of junctions onto the road.

In addition, 21 junctions will be upgraded, 10 others will be closed and new safety barriers will be installed in the central reservation to improve safety.

"The upgrade works are essential and are welcome. However, the scheme is still at development stage with works not planned to commence until 2021. This is too long; we need a greater sense of urgency," Mr McNulty said.

"I know many of the families who have lost loved ones or who have had friends and family seriously injured on the A1. All have firmly stated that if the road was safer, there would not have been an accident.

"For this reason alone, I believe every effort must be made now to ensure the road is much safer for all who use the route as soon as possible."

In recent years the A1 has been the scene of several serious crashes. In October last year two people died following a collision involving a lorry and two cars on the road outside Newry.

The previous May, a 27-year-old man died in a crash on the road between Banbridge and Dromore.

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The scene of the road accident on the A1 in Newry on Wednesday.

Seamus Leheny, policy manager for the Freight Transport Association, said the group frequently raises safety concerns about the A1 with government officials.

"We've always had a big concern with the A1 and whenever we meet the Department for Infrastructure or politicians we press them on the issue," he said.

"Our main concern is the gaps in the central reservation on the A1, which can cause vehicles to veer off into oncoming traffic and cause serious accidents.

"There are ongoing plans to close off the central reservation at sections of the road, and that is something we've been pushing for. Drivers entering the carriageway northbound also present a danger because they are entering the fast lane.

"The A1 is the most popular road in Northern Ireland for HGVs, which are limited in the maximum speed they should be doing on dual carriageways.

"Some other drivers, who may be driving too fast, seem not to take into account the difference in braking distances for these 40-tonne vehicles, which can cause serious accidents."

A spokesperson for the Department for Infrastructure said a "significant amount" of development work has already been carried out for the A1 Junctions Phase 2 road improvement scheme.

"The current phase involves the completion of the preliminary design, review of the scheme cost estimate and the drafting of an Environmental Impact Assessment Report," they added.

"The department intends to publish the Environmental Impact Assessment Report and the draft statutory orders for the scheme early this year. Publication of these documents will be followed by a further public consultation which will provide the public with an opportunity to have their say on the updated scheme proposals. 

"A public inquiry may also be required. Progression to construction remains subject to clearing the statutory procedures and funding being made available to the department.

The spokesperson also said a number of gaps in the central reservation have already been closed, in addition to the installation of a central safety barrier at three locations on the route, with further barriers to be added in the next few months.

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