Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Impasse puts brakes on A5 road upgrade

Editor's Viewpoint

Plans to upgrade the A5 road between Aughnacloy near the border in Tyrone and Londonderry have been on the drawing board for almost a decade. In that same period around 30 people have been killed in accidents on that 53-mile stretch of road.

Parts of it are more dangerous than others.

The deaths of two elderly people from England whose car was in collision with a lorry on the Doogary Road outside Omagh on Monday brings to six the number of fatalities on that five-mile stretch of road in the past seven years.

And last night it was confirmed that a pedestrian had been killed after an accident involving a car on another part of the A5 near Omagh.

Those statistics present an undeniable case for improvements on the A5 and indeed road safety was one of the arguments made at the public inquiry into why the proposed dualling of the road was required.

But, as always seems to happen in Northern Ireland, the plans have been bedevilled by delays, the latest earlier this year when a legal challenge was mounted shortly before work was due to begin on the first phase of the project.

Already £80m has been spent without a single yard of tarmac being laid. It is a project which has attracted cross-border support. Before the power-sharing Executive at Stormont imploded it had agreed a financial allocation of £229m for the period up to 2021.

The Irish Government agreed to give £50m towards the project with another £25m to ensure that the first phase began as soon as possible.

However, not everyone is in favour of the project and legal challenges have been taken against the road widening, forcing the government when it was sitting at Stormont to take heed of - among other things - special areas of conservation and important wildlife habitats.

But even if there was no opposition it is doubtful that the project could go ahead in its entirety in any case since there is no Minister of Infrastructure in post in Northern Ireland to make the necessary decisions to proceed. Civil servants are wary of exceeding their powers after the decision to grant permission for a huge incinerator on the outskirts of Belfast was overturned by the courts because it had not been approved by a minister.

The need to improve this important but dangerous route is compelling but it is likely to remain in an untouched ministerial in-tray for some time.

Belfast Telegraph

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