To get a sense of how much needs to be done on the Belfast to Londonderry road, consider this fact:
When the stretch of upgraded A6 road that was until Tuesday delayed by a court challenge, near Moosbawn west of Randalstown, finally gets built the great bulk of the road between Belfast’s two biggest cities will still be a single carriageway road.
The disputed section of dual carriageway, in the landscape linked to Seamus Heaney, would if finished only mean that there is dual carriageway or motorway between Belfast and Castledawson. That is 40 miles short of Londonderry.
Intercity traffic will continue to get caught behind tractors for many years to come, perhaps a decade or more.
This is a fundamental infrastructure deficit in Northern Ireland. Traffic levels on parts of the Belfast-Londonderry road are relatively light but even so the A6 is worthy of a full upgrade because it is one of the Province’s key symbolic routes.
As with other road widenings, an expressway will slash collisions – a central objective in a road scheme. Such roads, which do not permit any right turns across the central reservation, dramatically cut death tolls.
Completion of the A6, along with the A5 road and Belfast’s York Street interchange, will greatly enhance transport connections within Northern Ireland. The final A6 must extend all the way to the A2 road near City of Derry airport, to bypass a cluttered part of the route around Altnagelvin hospital.
In addition to obvious strategic benefits to freight and commuter transport, a fully upgraded A6 will speed the movements of tourists who want to see both Belfast and Donegal.
The Republic of Ireland thought big when it overhauled its road network. Instead of short stretches of dual carriageway, it built motorways that entirely bypassed towns and cities.
The Republic now has one of the best intercity road networks in western Europe, having recently had one of the worst.
Completion of the A6 and A5 will bring Northern Ireland closer to the same standard.