Transport Minister Michelle McIlveen has officially opened the £133million A8 dualling scheme between Belfast and Larne.
The scheme, which represents one of the largest investments in the roads infrastructure in Northern Ireland in recent years, was funded by the Northern Ireland Executive with support from the European Commission and the government of the Irish Republic.
The official opening of the new road took place on Wednesday morning (December 16). The Minister was joined at the event by several local political representatives, including Mayor Thomas Hogg.
Almost nine miles (14.4kilometres) of the existing A8 was upgraded, between Coleman’s Corner Roundabout and Ballyrickard Road, to dual carriageway standard. The scheme delivered a new roundabout at Shane’s Hill Road and a bypass at Ballynure, as well as a number of grade-separated junctions, bridges and junctions.
Michelle McIlveen said: “In just 34 months since the first sod was cut on this ambitious investment scheme around 17,000 drivers on average every day are now benefiting from reduced journey time of up to 25 per cent - this is a significant reduction especially for commercial traffic using the port of Larne.”
The A8 forms part of the Eastern Seaboard Key Transport Corridor which is an important link between Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, and Scotland. It also provides a vital link serving the port of Larne.
The Minister continued: “The A8 scheme is of significant importance to the economic development of Northern Ireland. It will help grow the local economy and contribute directly to the development of Larne.”
Since the scheme began in August 2012 over two million cubic metres of earthworks material was excavated, including over 500,000 cubic metres of rock. Almost one third of a million tonnes of bituminous material was used for the road construction.
Recognising the impact the building works has had on the local community, The Minister said: “I would like to thank the families living in the area who have been directly affected by the work needed to deliver the scheme. Our appreciation also goes to businesses, landowners and road users for their patience, understanding and co-operation.
“I can assure everyone involved that they have made an enormously important contribution which has helped us to secure benefits for decades to come.”
Construction of the scheme was by a Joint Venture of Lagan, Ferrovial and Costain. In addition to over two million working hours generated by the scheme the contractor recruited five people who were on the unemployment register and provided employment opportunities for a number of students and apprentices. Over 700 ‘Steps to Work’ placement weeks were delivered through their workforce.
Construction is now substantially complete and the carriageway opened to traffic in May this year.