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Motorway contractors sought despite public inquiry yet to report

DRD has confirmed plans to link the Westlink with the M2 and M3 
John Monaghan

CONTRACTORS are being sought for a planned major motorway interchange in Belfast, despite a public inquiry into the project held earlier this month yet to report its findings.

The Department for Regional Development has formally put the York Street Interchange proposal out to tender, with a closing date of January 12th for applications.

The estimated cost of the tendered work is between £90 million and £110 million in the advert posted on the DRD's website, although a figure of £125-160 million was discussed at the public inquiry.

A DRD spokeswoman said that the Stormont Executive is "expected" to fund the scheme, but did not provide any further details on whether a financial package had already been agreed or how it would be delivered.

She said: "The actual overall cost of the scheme remains in the range £125 million to £165 million."

The spokeswoman added: "The tender estimate is the actual construction costs for the main contract. It does not include all the other associated scheme costs such as land compensation, scheme development and any advance works etc."

The public inquiry, called amidst opposition to the plans, convened in Belfast in mid-November and the inspector has yet to report on his findings, a process which usually takes several months.

However, the department has decided to press ahead with its plans to link the M2, M3 and Westlink.

The advert for tender states: "The proposed scheme replaces the existing signalised junction at York Street by providing direct uninterrupted connections between the A12 Westlink, M2 and M3 roads through a series of underpasses and at grade links."

It adds: "It includes a new bridge to carry York Street over the Westlink and also a new bridge carrying the M2 to Westlink over Dock Street. It will provide for storm water separation with a direct outfall to the Lagan and will incorporate upgrades to the foundations of the railway viaduct to accommodate future dualling of this line."

Residents have raised concerns including air quality, access to light and the proximity of added traffic lanes to properties, with 33 objections to date.

The public inquiry also heard from Vector Ltd, a company which claims it could implement an alternative plan by altering existing traffic junctions "in 5% of the time frame" at a maximum cost of £5m and without building new roads.

The DRD said the Vector proposal would be costly and that it would be "reluctant" to take it forward.

During the public inquiry, there were heated exchanges about road safety, with transport officials expecting "one or two accidents per week."

An audit, carried out by engineering consultancy firm AECOM, has predicted that accidents in the area would increase by almost a third over a period of 60 years.

The firm also confirmed that a recommendation to close the Clifton Street on-slip due to concerns over increased collisions between merging traffic from Clifton Street to the M3 was not being implemented.

The inquiry was also told that a memorial to the 15 victims of the 1971 UVF bomb at McGurk's Bar on North Queen Street would have to be demolished if the project goes ahead.

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