Safety concerns raised following latest A1 tragedy
THE deaths of three young students in a horror crash on one of Ireland's most dangerous roads have led to fresh calls for improvements to the "out-dated" route.
Three families are in mourning following the deaths of Peter Hughes, Conall Havern and Gavin Sloan in a two-car collision on the A1 dual carriageway on Sunday.
Moving tributes have been paid to the men - all students at Queen's University Belfast - who died in the crash between Dromore and Banbridge close to the Halfway Road junction.
The three friends were travelling in a red Vauxhall Corsa which was in a collision with a black Volkswagen Tiguan, travelling northbound.
A woman in the Tiguan was also taken to hospital but her injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.
It is understood the students, two aged 20 and one aged 19, had met at Queen's and lived in student halls during their first year at university.
They were moving into accommodation in Belfast for their second year and had been returning from leaving off belongings when their lives were tragically cut short.
Road conditions are thought to have been treacherous because of heavy rain at the time.
However, the stretch of the main Belfast-Dublin road, which carries around 50,000 vehicles a day, has frequently been the subject of safety concerns.
Since January 2012, nine people have died on the A1 between Lisburn and the border, including the three fatalities on Sunday.
Six of the deaths were at 'gap junctions' along the route, where the crash on Sunday also occurred.
Sinn Féin's Mickey Brady, who knows two of the families, said it is a dangerous road.
"The number of tragedies on this particular stretch has been disproportionately high," he said.
DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said: "There is an ongoing programme to upgrade the A1 and make it safer and this collision again highlights the need for that programme of work to be escalated so that this major road linking Belfast with Dublin gets the priority it deserves".
The SDLP's Dominic Bradley said he had also raised safety concerns.
"I will await the police report on the accident to see if any modification work needs to be done to make the road safer for motorists,"
Wesley Johnston, an expert on Northern Ireland's roads, described the route with its many right-turns as "out-dated".
He said there have been plans by the Department of Regional Development to close up gaps along the route since 2006, which had "moved relatively slowly through the processes".
"Basically, the bottom line is that the stretch of the A1 between Lisburn and Newry is an out-dated at-grade dual-carriageway with motorway standard roads at either end," he said.
"As the most important road in Ireland, I think it is vital that the scheme to close up the gap junctions, perhaps coupled with more aggressive closing up of the remaining side roads, proceeds as quickly as possible."
A DRD spokesman said: "The proposed A1 junctions phase two proposal involves closing up all openings in the central median and installing a continuous central safety barrier between Hillsborough Roundabout and Loughbrickland.
"It includes the provision of four flyover-type junctions and closing some minor road junctions along this stretch of the route.
"A north bound on-slip at Castlewellan Road, Banbridge will also improve access at this junction.
"The preferred option for the proposal, which is estimated to cost in the range £40-£50m, will be confirmed in the coming weeks.
"A significant amount of development work has already been progressed."
He added that "delivery of this scheme remains subject to it clearing the statutory procedures, having a satisfactory economic appraisal and is dependent on future funding levels".