Work has begun on one of the most important roads in Northern Ireland’s history.
The improvement between Dungiven and Drumahoe will radically improve the Belfast to Londonderry route.
The cutting of the first sod yesterday is the first stage in a process that should take four years to complete — assuming the improvement is not beset by some of the challenges and delays that have delayed other key road projects.
When the new road is completed, it will add 15 miles of high quality dual carriageway to the A6 road, and it will bypass Dungiven entirely.
By then, another stretch of dual carriageway on the route to and from the northwest should be open: from the western end of the M22 near Randalstown to the roundabout at Castledawson. Taken together, these two schemes should ensure that motorists will be able to travel at or close to the speed limit of 70mph for most of the distance between Northern Ireland’s two biggest cities.
The only major remaining 60mph single carriageway stretch will be on either side of the Glenshane Pass, where traffic levels are still low and where there are climbing lanes in the uphill stretches.
It is important that officials do not give up on plans ultimately to extend the route past Drumahoe to the Maiden City and points beyond it. But in the meantime, when this latest stretch opens it will take around an hour to travel from the outskirts of Londonderry to the outskirts of Belfast.
This will represent a major breakthrough in Northern Ireland’s road infrastructure. Gradually our key roads are all getting better: the A1, the A4, the A6, the A8, the A26 have all been given crucial new stretches of dual carriageway, which not only improve travelling times they reduce death tolls.
Key routes that have yet to have a major upgrade is the A5, but that is almost under way, and the A24 between Belfast and the Mournes.