Work on first section of new A5 road to begin next year
CONSTRUCTION is set to begin next year on the first part of the long-awaited new A5 Derry to Dublin road.
Transport minister Michelle McIlveen has launched a public consultation on a £150m plan to upgrade the route between Newbuildings outside Derry and Strabane.
However, she said another planned section between Ballygawley and the border "will not be progressed" at this stage.
It follows news that work will begin on dualling of the notorious Moneynick Road section of the A6 Belfast-Derry road later this year.
Diggers could also move in to start a bypass of Dungiven during 2018.
The British and Irish governments had initially hoped to convert the entire 55-mile length of the A5 between Derry and the border at Aughnacloy to dual carriageway standard in the north's biggest ever road project.
However, the scheme was hit by funding problems and a legal challenge, meaning the work was broken into separate sections.
In December around £229m was allocated by Stormont to the A5 over the next five years, along with £258m to the A6.
The Irish government also said it was willing to provide £75m towards modernising the A5.
Ms McIlveen has in recent weeks been revealing details of timescales for the work.
She said yesterday that the first section of the A5, from Newbuildings to north of Strabane, could begin next year.
Once a consultation period has ended, a decision will be made on the need for a public inquiry, currently tentatively scheduled for the autumn.
"This important project will not only have positive benefits for the local economy and construction industry but will also significantly improve safety and journey times for all road users," she said.
The minister also said she was seeking accelerated passage for the Land Acquisition and Compensation Bill which would bring compensation for landowners in Northern Ireland affected by compulsory purchases on a par with England and Wales.
"Yesterday I received Executive agreement on the introduction of the bill. I would be hopeful that the bill will complete its legislative process during this current mandate."
However, the minister said "at this stage" the next section of the A5 - running from south of the A4 at Ballygawley towards the border - will not be progressed.
This was said to be "in line with a recommendation from the Inspector’s Report from the 2011 public inquiry which stated that there should be a firm commitment from the Irish government in relation to the N2 improvement scheme; and certainty in relation to funding provision for the construction of this section of the scheme".
Sinn Féin's Declan McAleer said he hoped work on the A5 could begin as soon as possible.
"There is no doubt that the A5 project is one of the largest infrastructure projects on the island of Ireland," he said.
"It is vital for the growth of the economy right along the route and will greatly enhance cross-border trade and the continued development of the all-Ireland economy."