The Freight Transport Association (FTA) has welcomed the completion of a £130 million project to improve the A8 Larne to Belfast road – a vital route for freight travelling to and from the port.
Construction of the new 14.5 km dual carriageway took three years and involved building a by-pass at Ballynure which cost a third of the total budget. €18.3 million came from European Commission TEN-T funding which is specifically for infrastructure projects that will improve EU core trade networks.
The old single-carriageway road was an accident blackspot, in part due to the mix of lorries, agricultural vehicles and cars using it. HGVs were restricted to a maximum speed of 40mph while cars could drive up to 60mph. This led to tailbacks, especially at peak hours for freight traffic going to or from the ferry.
The new A8 carriageway now allows lorries to drive at a consistent speed up to 50mph while cars can now safely overtake slower moving traffic at a maximum speed of 70mph.
FTA believes the road will improve Northern Ireland’s connectivity and ensure the long-term future of Larne Port.
Seamus Leheny, FTA Policy & Membership Relations Manager for Northern Ireland, said: “It is an essential link in our supply chain between businesses in Northern Ireland, as well as Republic of Ireland, and the large freight hubs and distribution centres in Northern England and Scotland that we rely on to keep many of our businesses stocked with goods.
“The completion of the A8 dual carriageway not only improves Northern Ireland’s connectivity to GB and Europe but it also ensures that the A8 is fit for purpose and ensures the long term viability of Larne Port.”
Mr Leheny said reduced journey time would make Larne Port more competitive with Belfast and Warrenpoint and would cut costs for transport operators.
“We would expect to see an increase in the volume of freight handled by the Port of Larne, ensuring its long-term sustainability.
“We would now call on the Assembly and Minister Danny Kennedy to ensure investment and EU funding is secured in upgrading the critical A6 Belfast to L’Derry road and the York Street Interchange at Belfast. These two projects must be prioritised in future capital investment schemes as they are vital in ensuring our strategic transport network is cohesive and helps drive economic development in Northern Ireland,” he said.
Mr Leheny said he welcomed news that Mr Kennedy and his department are looking at alternative sources of funding from the EU for future projects.