Wednesday 11 July 2012

Right to the heart of a Maiden City

Cross the river to avoid constraints.
As a fairly regular commuter to Derry, I have a strong interest in the proposed upgrading to a dual carriageway of the A5 road from Aughnacloy to Newbuildings. Despite more than 2,000 objections, a public inquiry has now1 given the go-ahead  for the work which already has a budget of £330 million.
However, at the risk of prolonging the tailbacks and road hazards, I want to raise yet another objection. It is based on empirical research and, while it might seem impertinent, I think it should be on the table before the bulldozers move in. This is not least because it might stand a better chance of winning back the €400 million that the Dublin government allocated to the project before backing out of the deal.
Agreeing a cross-border road to Derry City.
So here is my concern: the planning has focused on the wrong road entirely, well, the wrong route from Victoria Bridge to the Maiden City.
For those familiar with the North-West Passage, this is the part which snakes its way for about 20 miles through (or around after the roadworks) Sion Mills, Strabane, Ballymagorry, Cloghcor, Bready and Magheramason (all in Co. Tyrone) before drawing up to the traffic lights in Newbuildings, Co. Derry, and the final Prehen stretch into the city which is excluded from the work.
Roads Service in Northern Ireland has wrestled with this part of the route which hugs the east bank of the River Foyle. All along, the answer to their problem was over on the west bank; i.e. in the other jurisdiction.
By entering Co. Donegal, the route could:
• Avoid major centres of settlement;
• Extend right into the heart of Derry City;
• Link with the dual carriageway (plus under-deck) Craigavon Bridge;
• Better serve Letterkenny and all north and west Donegal;
• Provide a road that can readily justify Dublin government funding.
Such a road would depart the current A5 route just north of Victoria Bridge, following the general line of Bells Park Road to cross the Border and the River Finn between Clady and Strabane. (The Finn is barely wider than a normal two-lane road at this point.)
With upper and lower decks, Craigavon bridge
offers three lanes each way to connect entire city.
It would then sweep west of Lifford towards Letterkenny before resuming its course to Derry up the Laggan Valley side of the Foyle past Porthall, St Johnston and Carrigans. There it would cross the border into Co. Derry, following the Balloughry Road to join up with the Letterkenny Road, before making its grand final  sweep along the scenic and unimpeded passage down past the Brandywell (GAA and soccer venues) to Craigavon Bridge.
This route would be no longer than the current proposal and it would better serve the entire north-west region in both jurisdictions. Apart from achieving the overall objectives listed above, it would:
• Allay the deep objections of Protestant landowners north of Strabane;
• Allow Derry city nationalists to drive to Dublin through Donegal;
• Provide a real and more direct road link connecting Dublin and Letterkenny;
• Preserve the core integrity of the Foyle; and
• Stake a Dublin government claim to the Maiden City itself.
Now even in these straitened times, that must be worth at least €400 million.

1 A5 Road Upgrade 'To Get Go-ahead' After Public Inquiry,  by Kevin Magee, BBC, 11 July 2012:

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