York Street Interchange to benefit from £400m infrastructure windfall
THE future of some of the north's key infrastructure projects looks bright following the promise of £400 million of extra funds.
An allocation of £200m per year for the next two years has been earmarked for projects, among them the York Street Interchange.
The much-anticipated project has been in the works for the best part of a decade, with the first stage being approved in 2009.
At an estimated cost of between £120-165m, the aim is to replace the existing signal-operated junction at York Street with direct links between the Westlink and the M1, M2 and M3 - the three busiest roads in the north.
The Belfast junction carries 100,000 vehicles each day and plans to upgrade it stalled in November following funding issues related to Brexit.
Stormont had worked on the project in recent years with the European Commission and it was a priority case for EU co-financing, which would cover up to 40 per cent of the costs.
In November, however, Stormont's then-infrastructure minister, Sinn Féin's Chris Hazzard, said that future funding was in doubt following the result of last June's referendum.
Two months later in was announced that £4m had been made available to make the project "construction ready", however its future has remained unclear since.
Yesterday's deal states that the infrastructure funding will have "sufficient flexibility as to the choice of project to ensure the Executive is able to deliver the York Street Interchange project and other priorities".
What the "other priorities" are is unclear, however, the A5 and A6 duelling projects are currently at various stages of development.
The A5 Western Transport Corridor will upgrade the entire A5 to a dual-carriageway, running from the border near Aughnacloy to Derry, via Omagh and Strabane, at a cost of £870m.
A public inquiry into how to proceed with the project was launched in October last year, with a decision expected in August.
Meanwhile, there have been legal challenges to the A6 project in recent years, namely relating to the potential impact it would have on the surrounding environment and areas of cultural significance.
The scheme will see the existing road from Castledawson to the M22 motorway replaced at a cost of £160m.
It is understood that funding has been allocated for both the A5 and A6 projects, however, an Executive minister is needed in place to give the final go ahead in order for construction to begin.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said decisions now had to be made according to necessity.
"What's critical now is that we have an Executive to prioritise areas of spend to ensure this resource is targeted at areas of need, not the parochial priorities of one political party," he said.
"The document outlines projects like the York Street interchange. But the regional priorities must be building the A5 and the A6, using city deals to further the expansion of Ulster University at Magee and bespoke investment across the north and an immediate end to regional investment disparities."