Recently there have reports of a large white elephant surveying the landscape across a large swathe of the centre of Tyrone, it is believed the creature has strong intentions of making its presence a permanent feature of this region. It is accepted that some of the local residents would openly welcome such a prestigious neighbour and others, who have escaped any direct contact to date, seemed little concerned by its presence. However an increasing number have been dismayed by the havoc and destruction it will leave in its wake and in recent times the more astute are starting to ask how can we afford to accommodate and maintain this monster?
The creature currently goes under the catchy name of “The A5 Western Transport Corridor” and requires a completely new high-grade dual-carriageway (a motorway in all but name). Starting at Aughnacloy on the Monaghan border, it slices its way through virgin countryside to join up with other schemes at Newbuildings, on the edge of Londonderry/Derry, and branches across into Letterkenny and East Donegal. With a total length of 55 miles it will be the longest single road project ever undertaken in Northern Ireland.
Originally it was reported that “A5” would be a most generous gift from the “Celtic Tiger Maharaja”, to celebrate our small kingdoms emergence from many years of strife, it was also intended to strengthen friendships across our common frontier, bringing greater prosperity to one and all. The gift as promised amounts to some £400million, and the Tribal Princes assembled at Stormont said it should be received with the utmost gratitude by the citzens of this land, indeed to date Minister Murphy has hosted and attended several parties to express his heartfelt thanks. In spite of this, in a spirit of ingratitude, some have suggested that since the time the original magnificent offer was made the “Celtic Tiger” has been having some financial woes of its own and as a result the size of the gift might be in some doubt, however strong assurances have been given that the gift is safely protected from those who seek to plunder the Maharajah’s coffers and he assures us it will not be used to cover any of his substancial debts.
According to the vast wisdom of the volumes of Wikipedia “A white elephant is an idiom for a valuable possession of which its owner cannot dispose and whose cost (particularly cost of upkeep) is out of proportion to its usefulness or worth.” not a very flattering discription but sadly it would seem that on many levels it is an extremely fitting discription of the A5. Ahh but I hear you argue that the A5 will be a extremely hard working component in bringing prosperity to the poorly neglected West, bringing industry and tourism to those needy communities, however as we look closer at the figures the whole scheme does not stack up on many levels.
Currently the southern section of the A5 carries about 6000 vehicles per day between Augnacloy and Ballygawley, it has just had over £5 million spent on a realignment as part of the A4 upgrade scheme, ironically at Ballygawley roundabout the A4 going west to Enniskillen carries almost 8000 vehicles per day through narrow village streets, but there is no talk of a dual-carriageway or even by-passes there, despite the heavier levels of traffic. At present I am unaware of the traffic levels required to justify a Motorway, I would be bold enough to suggest that it would be several multiples of 6000 at least.
There are many other considerations as to why this scheme is unnecessary, environmental, archaeological, commercial ( few of the Aughnacloy, Ballygawley, Newtownstewart, or even Omagh & Strabane traders wish to see the passing trade taken out of their catchment areas), communities will be divided, farms destroyed, major disruption with noise, dust and visual poloution throughout the construction years, all this to save about 15 minutes of journey time. Finally of course there is the small matter or cost… before I go further it would be wrong to suggest that the investment of that type of money in Tyrone would not provide much needed jobs and investment in the areas affected, (brings to mind the famine roads that went nowhere but provided employment) however if that level of investment was put into the general roads system of Tyrone it would be much more welcome, boosting the economy across the whole county, not shoving the traffic through it as fast as possible and taking it out of the area. As for the road safety argument the streches being replaced are by no means safe, but neither are they notorious death traps like the A4 currently being upgraded, even a fraction of this investment more evenly spread out would probably save many more lives.
So lets get down to the nitty gritty, the new A5 is a gift and wont cost us anything, right? Wrong, firstly the £400 million is also to go towards the new A8 Larne Upgrade, being a smaller scheme lets allocate it 15% of the budget, that leaves us with £340 million, and the current cost of the scheme? Most recent announcements have estimated it at £850 million! That’s over half a BILLION that has to be found by the NI Executive, for what? A road that isn’t needed and cannot be justified. So why is this being forced through at lightning speed? You tell me, because it makes no sense here locally and I am sure there are one or two other projects where that sort of cash could make a real difference.