The A5 – A Commuter’s Perspective

The A5 Road

The Road

The A5 is a major primary route in Northern Ireland that runs from Craigavon Bridge in the city of Derry-Londonderry to the border at Aughnacloy where it forms the N2 which ultimately leads to Dublin. As it is the main route connecting the North West of Ireland with Dublin it is in several places referred to as the ‘North-West Passage’. The A5 road is approximately 54 miles long and is mainly single carriageway with a few 2+1 passing sections along the route.

The Commute

The A5 Omagh to Derry-Londonderry section is my daily commute, a distance of around 34 miles it usually takes 55-mins to 1 hour when leaving Omagh at 7am. The return journey leaving Derry-Londonderry at 5.30pm usually takes between 1 hour and 1 hour 10 mins. I have been a regular commuter on the route from February 2008 to the present day with the exception of 2011 when I worked in the USA. I am also very familiar with the stretch of road south of Omagh as it is the town’s primary route to Belfast and Dublin.

With the exception of the 2+1 purpose-built passing sections there are few other safe places to overtake traffic due to the fact that road continually twists and bends to follow the rivers Strule, Mourne and Foyle.

The maximum speed limit on the road for cars is 60mph with lower speed limits at Kelly’s Inn cross roads, Omagh by-pass, Sion Mills, Strabane by-pass, Ballymagorry, Bready, Magheramason, New Buildings and Derry-Londonderry. Outside of these settlements the maximum speed limit can rarely be reached due to farm vehicles, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs), learner drivers and restricted drivers travelling at slower speeds. With few opportunities to overtake as mentioned previously this can result in long slow tail backs at peak travelling times. I regularly see Ambulances struggling to pass traffic in their efforts to get to Altnagelvin Hospital, one of the main Acute Hospitals in the West following the closure of the Tyrone County Hospital’s A&E Department back a few years ago.

In the period 2004-2009 there were 19 fatalities along the A5. I personally have lost count of the number of near misses I have witnessed with my own eyes with people trying to overtake in dangerous manoeuvres.

Aside from the tragic loss of the life, the lack of alternative routes in the area causes problems following the resulting road closure after any sort of accident. These closures can increase travel time significantly with detours of up to 10-15 miles in place along narrow country roads.

The Project

In 2007 funding was announced and the NI Executive agreed to proceed with the A5 Western Transport Corridor (WTC) plan, an ambitious project that aimed to dual the entire length of the A5 route. The project has suffered considerable setbacks with the Irish Government not providing funding for the parts of the scheme they agreed to resulting in only two sections of the route now being considered for an upgrade (New Buildings to Strabane and Omagh to Ballygawley).

More details on the project and a history of what has happened so far can be found on the fantastic NI Roads website: A5 Dualling Derry to Aughnacloy.

The Opposition

More recently there has been a legal challenge from The Alternative A5 Alliance (AA5A) a group of 18 individuals opposed to the scheme. On 12th March the judge rejected 5 of their 6 challenges, but upheld one regarding the failure of the DRD carry out an appropriate assessment of the Rivers Foyle and Finn Special Areas of Conservation under the Habitats Directive. On Monday 8th April we learned that the High Court Judge, Mr Justice Stephens, confirmed he was quashing the decision to go ahead with the £330M dual carriageway project. However he granted the DRD a seven day stay to lodge any appeal to his ruling – until 12:00 on Monday 15th April.

The Future

Further details on the possible implications of this ruling can be found on Wesley Johnston’s article in which he states that the ruling is against a procedural issue regarding a breach of the habitats directive and is not a ruling against the route or concept of the project itself and would not permanently prevent the road from being built.

The reality is that because a process wasn’t followed correctly significant time has been added to an already delayed project, exposing commuters and the public to the current risks for a longer period of time and ultimately the cost of these delays will all be at the tax payer’s expense.

The Hope

As a commuter I believe it is essential that the entire route is dualled to provide a safer road for all and to significantly reduce travel time (to perhaps 30 minutes in my case – 35 miles @ 70mph = 30 mins). With the dualling of the A4 to Ballygawley complete, continuing this on the A5 to Omagh would give an uninterupted dual carriageway connection to Belfast reducing the potential travel time to Belfast to just 1 hour. These faster travel times and better connections can only improve our local economic opportunities and provide the west of the Northern Ireland with the infrastructure it deserves.

Until then we’ll just have to keep driving with perseverance and patience…

“Life is a journey that must be traveled no matter how bad the roads and accommodations.” – Oliver Goldsmith

The A5 Road - Mountjoy

8 Replies to “The A5 – A Commuter’s Perspective”

  1. David
    Good honest article,must be hell commuting this road daily especially during the silage season.
    Might be worthwhile to drop a copy to two Omagh based M.L.As. who are just lukewarm in support for scheme who would not know the road you talk about as they only use it every election time looking for our votes and are never herd of again .Anyway drive carefully through Magheramason as we live close to the road right on the border.
    Cheers Davy Sca

  2. Hi David
    I have been commuting from Dungannon to Omagh since 1997 (16 years!). My journey used to take over an hour. Since the A4 part of my commute from Dungannon to Ballygawley was dualled my journey is now 45-50 mins.
    Like you i have encountered many fatal accidents on both the A4 and A5. Now my journey is fine until i hit Ballygawley and then it is a nightmare. There are 2 places on the road to overtake safely – just after the ballygawley roundabout and Ballymacilroy hill.
    The amount of tractors, hgvs has definitely increased. Also the road is full of potholes and blind corners. I have seen many accidents and near misses.
    I am hoping that the A5 will also be dualled. As the main road into Omagh from the East of the province it should have been dualled years ago. Such a great job was made with the A4.
    Good luck with your commute and keep safe.
    Claire

  3. a few years my ill littlegirl was in hospital in derry when i got a phone call at work in omagh 12 30 md that she had collapsed and could i get to hosp right away with hold up by heavy traffic i got to the hosp 2 30 mins later but my little daughter had died 10mins early if the a5 had been a dualled i would have been with my little angel before she died so it makes me so cross when a few selfish farmers crying about their piece of land due to their greed

  4. My husband and I have had a daily commute along the A5 to Derry and Ballybofey to our work places. His journey begins before 7am and if he leaves any later he not only encounters HGV or commuter traffic he also experiences delays due to herds of milking cattle in two areas of his commute between Omagh and Clady turnoff. These herds can further delay his journey by at least 20 mins. He must allow 1 hr for his thirty five mile journey. My journey to Derry usually takes at least 1hr15 minute for a 40mile journey and can take longer. Many times I have sat in long tailed back traffic to discover a tractor is responsible for the delay and indeed drivers become frustrated trying to pass the line of traffic as they have somewhere to be. Some of these tractors may belong to the very farmers who are objecting to building the dual carriageway. How selfish can these farmers be, why do they continually refuse to realise the importance of saving lives on our roads? I too have witnessed accidents on the A5 and ambulances trying to get through traffic to get severely ill patients to Altnagelvin hospital and a dual carriageway is essential to do this. I have experienced journeys in an ambulance and how ill I felt by the time we reached the hospital (and I was only accompanying a relative), after our journey along a twisty bendy A5! God only knows how it must inhibit the patients recovery having to endure that journey or how the ambulance personnel manage to safely carry out vital treatment along the way?
    A group of 18 have managed to bully their point to halt progress, they even went to the trouble of posting little photocopies along the roadside saying ‘no to new road’. Let us the majority, mount our campaign saying YES TO NEW ROAD!!!!

  5. I think the new road would benefit the farmers who have to use the present road on a daily basis, as it would mean the present A5 would be a much quieter road and therefore pose less risk to livestock and themselves as they try to go about their daily chores. I often go to Dungannon via the old road and it is often virtually empty except for all the farm traffic: slurry tankers, silage trailers etc which was the bane of everyone’s life for so long. They are now able to get on with trying to do their work with one less problem. I think in 2012 the weather was a big enough problem for us all so imagine what it must have been for the farmer on the few dry days paniking to get grass harvested Its a wonder there were’t more accidents!
    I think those farmers if asked about their experience would be of benefit to the farmers here who are trying to come to terms with the whole project. The present limbo is worse than if it had never been started.

  6. We all need the NEW A5 its a disgrace if 18 people get away with stopping the building of it

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