A5 upgrade work will start before the end of the year – O’Dowd

Work on a proposed upgrade of the A5 road to Londonderry will start before the end of the year, the Stormont Infrastructure Minister has said.

John O’Dowd was speaking following a significant funding announcement for the project by the Irish Government, describing the A5 as “one of the most dangerous roads on this island”.

The A5 has been the subject of calls for improvement due to the high volume of fatal collisions on the route, which links the city of Derry with Aughnacloy in Co Tyrone, located close to the Irish border.

A scheme to turn the A5 into a dual carriageway was first approved in 2007 but has been held up by legal proceedings and faced funding uncertainty.

Since 2007, almost 50 people have died on the single-lane road, including three members of the same family in one collision.

a5 upgrade work will start before the end of the year – o’dowd

Niall McKenna, chair of the A5 campaign group, Enough is Enough (Liam McBurney/PA)

The Irish Government previously committed £400 million (467.9 million euro) to the A5 project in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement. However, it cut that to £75 million (87.7 million euro) during the financial crash.

On Tuesday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced including 600 million euro (£512.8 million) for the A5.

Mr O’Dowd welcomed the move and said despite some remaining challenges he is confident work can start before the end of the year.

“I am currently studying the planning appeal commission’s report, it is complex, it is comprehensive. I want to be assured that we have responded to all the issues contained within that report before I announce the commencement of the building of the A5,” he said.

“My current deliberations are not around ‘if we will build the A5’, my current deliberations are on ‘how we build the A5’.”

Mr O’Dowd said he would appeal to those people behind the legal challenges to “bring them to an end”.

“This road is about improving road safety and about saving lives, so I appeal to those people to end their legal challenges.

a5 upgrade work will start before the end of the year – o’dowd

Brendan Hurl, from A5 campaign group, Enough is Enough, also welcomed the announcement (Liam McBurney/PA)

“I would hope to see construction start on the A5 by the end of this calendar year. That is my intention as we move forward.”

Mr O’Dowd said further funding will come from the Stormont Executive, but added there is also a “challenge” for the UK Government, with the A5 “mentioned in their UK connectivity report”.

He said he would like to see more than words but also finances coming from London.

“But I am confident that the A5 is going ahead. It’s financially viable and it will be funded.”

Earlier, Niall McKenna, chair of the A5 Enough Is Enough campaign group, said it was very happy with the recommitment by the Irish Government to the funding.

His group met with the Irish Government last summer, and said they felt confident after that meeting that a substantial figure would be announced.

“Unfortunately the process began in April 2007 when the scheme was initially approved,” Mr McKenna said.

“It has been beset with legal problems for nearly 17 years, and unfortunately in those 17 years, 48 people have lost their lives on this road.

“But we think things are certainly moving in the right direction at the moment, and we’d be hopeful that full approval for the scheme will be in the next couple of months.”

Another member of the campaign group, Brendan Hurl, said the A5 has previously been described as “one of the most dangerous in Europe”.

“It emerged in the public inquiry that an accident has been reported to police (on the A5) once every three days,” he said.

“Too many lives have been lost on this road, too many families have been victims, and the important thing is to say about this road is the A5 is totally indiscriminate, it doesn’t matter who you are, what you are, where you’re from, what you work at, what background you come from, it will kill you regardless.”

a5 upgrade work will start before the end of the year – o’dowd

SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan hailed the announcement (PA)

SDLP West Tyrone MLA Daniel McCrossan welcomed the funding as a “watershed moment”.

“Now that this funding has been secured we need to see the Executive and Minister O’Dowd follow suit with approval for this long-awaited project so that we can get work started before the end of the year,” he said.

“I would like to pay tribute to the campaigners, many of them who have lost loved ones on this road, who have worked so hard in recent years, battering down the doors of governments right across this island to make the case for the A5.

“They know more than anyone the need for this redevelopment, but channelled their own grief into positive action so that nobody else would suffer the loss that they have felt.

“We have been a long time getting to this stage and what we need now from the minister is urgent clarity on the next steps.

“I believe today is a watershed moment in seeing the A5 delivered and look forward to seeing this project completed at last.”

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