Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

 A1 campaign praised as £50m safety upgrade announced

A high profile campaign to secure vital improvements on the A1 carriageway has been praised for its efforts as the Department for Infrastructure (Dfl) announced a huge £50m safety upgrade on the main Belfast to Dublin route, which is set to begin in 2021.

The ”A1 How many must die?” petition was launched by the friends and family of Newry man Karl Heaney, who died in May after a collision with a vehicle that had turned on to the wrong side of the A1 carriageway. The 27-year-old was travelling back from training with Newry Mitchels GFC to his home in Carryduff. In November, Karl’s girlfriend, Ciara Sands, and his mother, Monica, started the petition calling for action to carry out the safety improvements on the notorious stretch of road, which has claimed multiple lives over the years. Within days thousands of people were backing the campaign and last week Karl’s mother met with DfI management to talk about how she used her own personal grief into pushing for the safety measures to save other families from going through the same heartache.   

The grieving mother attended the meeting with divisional Roads Manager Simon Richardson along with a delegation of local political representatives at Marlborough House in Craigavon on Monday last.

The group were updated on the details of the proposed new safety scheme, which will see 21 junctions upgraded to operate on a ‘left in – left out’ only system while other junctions will be closed permanently. The improvements include nine road closures and the closure of all central reservation crossings meaning there will no more U-turns or right turning from junctions. New safety barriers are also set to be installed in the central reservation in an effort to improve driver safety.  

Political representatives have welcomed the news, with the SDLP’s Justin McNulty describing them as “essential and long overdue.”

Mr McNulty said he firmly believed the road should be upgraded to full motorway status. 

“The route connects both capital cities on this island and the main route connecting both cities must be of a standard befitting the importance of the trunk route,” he said.  He added that the present road layout changing from motorway to dual carriageway at Sprucefield roundabout until the border with County Louth needed to be rectified with “appropriate warning signage” and he urged the necessary safety improvement at junctions and crossings to be completed “without delay.”

Mr McNulty commended Monica Heaney for her “amazing strength” and thanked her for sharing her story “with the steely determination she has to prevent any other family from experiencing the trauma she and her family have been through.”

“It really struck home when Monica told us that her son Karl would still be alive today if the proposed road safety measures had been completed,” said the SDLP MLA.

“Our shared goal as political representatives must be to ensure there are no more families who lose a loved one on this road.”

South Down MP Chris Hazzard, who also attended Monday’s meeting, welcomed the “positive discussions” with DfI, but he warned that, as it would take time for the works to pass through the statutory processes, interim measures needed to be taken.

“More than 40,000 vehicles commute along this stretch of carriageway on a daily basis making the A1 a strategically important transport corridor; yet the existing road layout and mix of agricultural and local traffic criss-crossing the carriageway at dozens of locations along the route undoubtedly increases the risk of a collision,” said Mr Hazzard, adding that he has asked DfI to explore ways in which additional signage or driver awareness initiatives can be implemented in the meantime to improve the existing road safety features and help raise drivers’ awareness

“Sinn Féin look forward to working with DFI Roads in the time ahead to ensure the successful implementation of this scheme and would again appeal to road users on the A1 to be mindful of the particular road dangers that exist and reduce their speed appropriately,” said the Sinn Fein MP.