From Stormont to the Falls Road, via the York St junction

The York Street interchange road upgrade is needed mainly because it will remove congestion at the junction.

By The Newsroom
Saturday, 22nd October 2016, 1:53 am
Updated Tuesday, 25th October 2016, 8:09 pm
Image of the proposed York Street Interchange
Image of the proposed York Street Interchange

Delays are particularly bad for traffic travelling from the M2 to the Westlink/M1.

But this does not mean that the upgrade is merely a matter of convenience for the 100,000+ vehicles that pass through the junction each day.

It is also about improving strategic traffic patterns.

It is a Sinn Fein minister, Chris Hazzard, who is taking the key decisions on York Street, so consider the following scenario, involving a fictional Sinn Fein MLA, which might illustrate why the junction is strategically important.

Imagine an MLA for West Belfast who is often driving from Stormont to Andersonstown. The road network should be designed to deter a motorist who is making such a journey from travelling all the way down the Newtownards Road, through the city centre, up the Grosvenor Road to the Falls Road and through the upper Falls to Andersonstown.

Those are inner city routes that are rightly being made easier for buses (although my own view is that the bus lanes in the very heart of the city are unecessary, because the streets are so wide).

The motorist travelling from Stormont to Andersonstown should be encouraged to turn from Belmont towards Tillysburn junction, using the Parkway dual carriageway (an excellent piece of road infrastructure that I know well because as a child I walked across the fields on which it was later built, in the 1980s).

The Andersonstown MLA would join the Sydenham bypass, cross the M3 bridge, pass seamlessly through the upgraded York Street junction and on to the Westlink. Further up the M1 they would leave at Black’s Road and then head in towards west Belfast.

There are umpteen other journeys that illustrate the same point about the importance of the York Street junction: a motorist travelling from Fortwilliam to the King’s Hall should not be travelling on the Antrim Road and Lisburn Road, but instead using the M2 and Westlink via York Street, and on to the M1, coming off at Stockmans Lane.

In an ideal road network the MLA driving Stormont to West Belfast would also have the option of using on an upgraded Outer Ring road, with several flyover junctions, past Knockbreda, and then joining a dual carriageway replacement of the key Hillhall Road to the M1 at Lisburn.

But there seems to be no appetite for such a major road scheme to the south and east of Belfast. This is all the more reason why York Street junction is so important.

I would go further than upgrading York Street, and would link the works into the proposed widening of the Sydenham bypass with the removal of traffic lights at Dee Street, and upgrade Tillysburn to a freeflowing junction.

This would mean the main road infrastructure around Belfast was largely complete. It would make it possible for traffic to travel a range of long distance routes on dual carriageway without going through a single traffic light – between locations as diverse as Holywood, Glengormley, Ballymoney, Lisburn, Newry, Ballygawley and (when the A6 is dualled) Londonderry.

This would not be cheap but there is public money for such infrastructure. Among the many possible savings in public finances is a coming one that Mr Hazzard’s party opposed – the benefits cap of £20,000 per household that will be introduced in Northern Ireland next month.

Another cost that should be examined is one that all the main Stormont parties supported – the decisison to offer free public transport to people at the age of 60, brought in at a time of rising life expectancy.

If the A5, A6 and York Street were all upgraded, we could turn to other road schemes that deserve support such as one in the infrastructure minister’s South Down constituency: an improvement of the route to the Mournes.

Ben Lowry (@BenLowry2) is News Letter deputy editor