Local political figures have met with the Department for Infrastructure to discuss upgrade work planned for the A1 dual carriageway between Sprucefield and Newry.

It follows campaigning work by by Monica Heaney and Ciara Sands who have asked the Department to complete A1 improvements.

Monica's son and Ciara's boyfriend Karl Heaney was killed on the road in May.

The political representatives heard that planned work includes the closure of all central reservation crossings with no more U-turns or right turning out of junctions onto the A1, 4 new grade separated junctions, 21 junctions will be upgraded to operate on a ‘left in - left out’ only system and 10 other junctions will be closed permanently.

Improvements on the A1 are set to begin in 2021. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/
Improvements on the A1 are set to begin in 2021. Photograph: Columba O'Hare/

Newry and Armagh MLA, Justin McNulty commented after the meeting "‘The upgrade works are essential and are welcome.  At this stage, the works are at development stage and works are planned to commence in 2021.  Whilst revenue funding covering all the preparatory work, which is 50% grant aided from the European Union, has been released, the releasing of the capital funds needed for construction will require Ministerial approval during 2020."

The MLA added "At the end of our meeting today we heard from Monica Heaney, whose son Karl tragically lost his life on the A1.  Monica has amazing strength and she has turned her own personal grief into campaigning for improvements along the road.  I want to thank Monica for her bravery in joining us today to share her story with the steely determination she has to prevent any other family from experiencing the trauma she and her family have been through. It really struck home when Monica told us that her son Karl would still be alive today if the proposed road safety measures had been completed.

"Our shared goal as political representatives must be to ensure there are no more families who lose a loved one on this road.  I hope these planned improvements commence without delay so that they will go some way to prevent any loss of life or serious accidents in the future on this stretch of the A1."

Mr McNulty believes the works should just be an interim measure and that the road should be upgraded to full motorway status. "The route connects both capital cities on this island and the main route connecting both cities must be of a standard befitting the importance of the trunk route.  At present it is confusing, you leave the motorway at Sprucefield and join the dual carriageway until you reach the border with County Louth and then return to a motorway.  The only difference you notice is the signage so in reality, you think the road is the same, but it is clearly not. At a minimum and as an interim measure, this needs to be rectified with appropriate warning signage and the necessary safety improvements at junctions and crossings completed without delay."

South Down MP Chris Hazzard who also attended the meeting commented “More than 40,000 vehicles commute along this stretch of carriageway on a daily basis making the A1 a strategically important transport corridor; yet the existing road layout and mix of agricultural and local traffic criss-crossing the carriageway at dozens of locations along the route undoubtedly increases the risk of a collision."

Mr Hazzard in the interim advised users of the A1 to be mindful of the particular road dangers that exist and reduce their speed appropriately. “Whilst these improvements will undoubtedly improve road safety and route consistency along the A1; they will of course take time to pass through the statutory processes before construction is complete.

“With this in mind we have today asked DFI Roads to explore ways in which additional signage or driver awareness initiatives can be implemented in the meantime to improve the existing road safety features and help raise drivers’ awareness."

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