Minister says ‘No’ to A8 safety pleas

Danny Kennedy at a security cordon on the outskirts of Newtownhamilton due to a security alert when a car was  abandoned outside the  Shambles Lane enterence of the  PSNI Station.'Picture by Brian Little    words by Sara  13/4/10
Danny Kennedy at a security cordon on the outskirts of Newtownhamilton due to a security alert when a car was abandoned outside the Shambles Lane enterence of the PSNI Station.'Picture by Brian Little words by Sara 13/4/10

TRANSPORT Minister Danny Kennedy has told Larne Borough Council that it is “unlikely” there will be improvements at a notorious crash blackspot.

In response to calls for urgent action at the so-called Ramp, where Circular Road meets the A8 dual-carriageway, Mr Kennedy maintained it was a standard junction and blamed the high accident rate on driver error and excessive speed.

However, indignant councillors have urged the minister to think again, insisting it is “only a matter of time” before there is a fatality.

The Harbour Highway junction has long been a source of frustration and confusion for many motorists.

Local councillors have branded it the most dangerous junction in the borough, and are now urging Roads Service to make changes as a matter of urgency before it is too late.

Despite these concerns, Roads Minister Danny Kennedy has sent a letter to Larne Borough Council stating that it is “unlikely” there will be any improvement made to the junction any time soon.

While he acknowledged the local authority’s fears about safety at the site, Mr Kennedy described it as a “standard” junction that should operate “without undue safety concerns”, adding that no major junction could be described as being 100 per cent safe.

The Minister also said that recent changes made to the junction should be allowed to “settle in and their effects monitored for a period of time” before any further changes are considered.

But Councillor Gregg McKeen feels that this wait-and-see approach could end in tragedy, and claimed it “only a matter of time before there is a fatality”.

Cllr McKeen accused Roads Service of using “out-of-date” traffic data for the stretch of road between the junction and Redlands roundabout. “The last time I met officials from the Department, they were using measurements that had been taken before the construction of Asda, the cinema and other facilities at Redlands,” he added. “Since these arrived on the scene, traffic has greatly increased on that road.

“There are accidents at this junction on a regular basis. Is it going to take a death before something is done? We should continue to push the Department for a solution.”

Ald Jack McKee said the junction was an “absolute nightmare” for motorists and added that many drivers still do not know who has the right of way. “People are confused about how to tackle this junction. We can’t afford to just wait and see as the Minister has suggested, as it could claim a life,” he said.

While Mr Kennedy accepted that a number of collisions continue to occur at the site, he pointed out that the PSNI attribute these to “driver error” rather than the layout of the junction.

He added that a recent survey of speeds on the approach to the junction indicted “poor compliance” with the 40mph speed limit, and that police were currently taking appropriate enforcement action.

Ald Roy Beggs proposed that the council should write to the PSNI to ask how many prosecutions there have been for speeding offences at the junction.

Ald Winston Fulton suggested that the answer to the problematic junction was to construct either a roundabout or traffic lights at the site. “This is one of the worst junctions in the borough and something must be done. Maybe we should invite the minister to come and see it for himself,” he added.

Last year, the council urged DRD to consider a temporary moratorium on right-turns at the difficult junction. But Mr Kennedy said this was “not the right time” to consider such as option, adding that a number of factors would have to be taken into account.

These include increased distance and travel time for drivers, additional traffic essentially making u-turns at Redlands roundabout, and the likelihood of more traffic exiting the town at the Pound Street junction.

The Minister also said that the suggestion of construction a roundabout at the location “has not been considered” by the Department.

“With many demands for infrastructure funding throughout Northern Ireland, it seems unlikely this junction would be considered for improvement in the foreseeable future,” Mr Kennedy added.