So what can we do with £400million for infrastructure projects?

Councilor Paul Reid (Mayor, Mid and East Antrim), William Diver (BAM McCann), Deirdre Mackle (Department for Infrastructure) and Councillor Joan Baird (Mayor, Causeway Coast and Glens) with guests at the opening of the A26 dualling project from Glarryford to Drones Road near the Wee Frosses (photo: Andy Boal)

With thanks to my good friend Wesley Johnston, whose inestimable website is the source for any intelligible figure I can find to help me write this article…

I was at the official opening of the A26 two weeks ago, and I think that there is definitely an appetite to get York Street Interchange sorted out – but the next scheme to hit the ground was always going to be the sole decision of the Minister and the Executive rather than officials.

Today’s announcement, however, has the potential to make a major difference to all this.

Consider the Executive’s allocations to flagship projects from the 2016-17 Budget:

Flagship Projects 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20 2020-21 Total
A5 Road 13.2 40 53 55 68 229.2
A6 Road 21 57 60 60 60 258
Belfast Rapid Transport 17 9 20 12.9 58.9
Belfast Transport Hub 5.8 16 40 60 121.8
Mother and Children’s Hospital 16 29.3 62.8 73 61.6 242.7
Desertcreat 3.9 0.3 18.3 28.2 28.7 79.4
Regional & Sub Regional Stadia 9.8 27 30 15 9 90.8
Total 86.7 178.6 284.1 304.1 227.3 1080.8

From the available figures, the mother and children’s hospital appears to be fully funded (last estimate £219 million), I simply don’t have enough information to calculate whether the stadia are fully funded (the last total cost estimate I found was £110 million, but I don’t know how much was paid out in capital costs for Kingspan Ravenhill and Windsor Park before 2016/17), and google isn’t showing a total for Desertcreat so I don’t know how much the NIFRS college will cost.

What we do have is figures on the road and transport schemes, all dealing in round figures:

The A5 is estimated at £150 million for Newbuildings to Strabane and £225 million for Omagh-Ballygawley, leaving a shortfall of £150 million.

The A6 is estimated at £160 million for Randalstown-Toome (by far the most needed), £60 million for the Dungiven bypass (next) and £340 million for Dungiven-Derry.  Assuming that Dungiven-Derry is on the long finger, like Omagh-Strabane and Ballygawley-Aughnacloy, that leaves a surplus of £35 million.

Belfast Rapid Transit is estimated at £90 million, with £8 million already paid out, and therefore a shortfall of £25 million.

Belfast Transport Hub is estimated at £175 million, with a shortfall of £55 million.

York Street Interchange is estimated at £130 million.

Adding the various shortfalls together, we get a total of £325 million – a figure which could be more, could be less – against today’s announcement of £400 million.  Bearing in mind that my figures are all back of an envelope stuff, there could still be potential for additional work – if the NIFRS college, stadia and regional children’s hospital don’t use up all of the difference of £75 million (and we simply don’t know how much more than £79.4 million the NIFRS college will cost), it is there to be used.

So where could it go?

Well, and again looking at Wesley’s website, my best guess is the difference will go to closing the central reservation gaps between Hillsborough and Loughbrickland, gaps that create serious risk of collisions with turning traffic that is realised far too often.

Why here and not the west?  Well, simply, and at its bluntest, it’s where it will be most needed from the point of view of road safety, and £75 million, even if I’ve underestimated that, isn’t going to buy dual carriageway from Dungiven to Derry or from Strabane to Omagh.  It may seem east-centric, but the reality is that roads in the east are under the most strain of heavy traffic.

The alternative, and although you may well say that I would suggest it, being ever so slightly biased, would be to use it to support longer trains (Translink’s option on additional coaches to lengthen the C4K trains expires in the next two years) or for other public transport measures.

With good cost control (set against a market that you can never quite trust to come in under budget) it could even be both rather than one or the other.

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