Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assemblyman and member of the Stormont Public Accounts Committee, has urged the Sinn Fein Infrastructure Minister “to ensure the correct solution is found for Woodgreen Road junction on the A26 near Ballymena does not become the region’s latest accident blackspot”.
Assemblyman Swann, the UUP Chief Whip and North Antrim UUP Chairman, issued his challenge to the Sinn Fein Minister following an Assembly question.
Mr Swann also urged the Minister to “make very sure there is no delay in implementing much-needed improvements to the Woodgreen junction”.
Mr Swann had pressed the Minister for an update on the proposed improvements to the A26 from the Ballee Road roundabout to the Dunsilly roundabout.
Responding to Assemblyman Swann’s question, the Minister said: “Road safety is one of my Department’s key priorities. In the light of the recent fatalities along that stretch of road, Transport NI carried out a review of safety in consultation with the PSNI, looking at the collision history and the causation factors identified. The review made a number of recommendations, which are now being followed through.
“My Department is currently consulting on proposals to prohibit right turns out of Woodgreen Road, Maine Road and Cromkill Road on to the A26 Lisnevenagh Road.
“I understand that there are some objections to the proposals that will have to be addressed. That will delay progress for a number of months and will potentially prevent the prohibitions being implemented. Some work has already been completed to renew white lines at junctions and provide new direction arrows.
“New warning and direction signage has also been designed and procured and is expected to be installed before the winter season.
“The remaining works to renew advance direction signs, warning signs, cat’s eyes and lines and to cut back vegetation growth are planned to begin shortly and continue over the following months,” said the Minister.
Mr Swann went on to press the Minister on precisely when the improvements would be completed.
Mr Swann added: “I am sure, from that detailed response, that he will be aware specifically of the Woodgreen junction and the work that is needed there. It experiences a disproportionately high number of fatalities per road accident and per traffic movement.
“He said that some of the proposals from his Department had met with objections, which is holding back the road”, to which Mr Swann took exception and pressed the Minister to ”acknowledge that they are not objections but merely responses to the consultation that his Department asked for, where locals have input on what they think may be a better fit?”
Responding to Mr Swann’s persistent pressing of the issue, the Minister seemed to backtrack: “I take on board his comments. When we go out to consultation, we want to ensure — I am adamant about this — that road safety is a priority for us.
“We want to take on board everything that is said during the consultation project. We need to bear it in mind that, where there are objections, we have to look at them.
“We have a legislative duty to do so. I am more than happy to meet or correspond with the Member in that regard in the future,” the Minister told Assemblyman Swann.
Mr Swann said he would be “keeping a very close eye on developments at this most dangerous section of the road”. He added that he wanted “promises kept, and action taken – not meaningless rhetoric as countless lives are at stake.”