Westlink & M1 upgrade  Belfast - Progress Reports

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This is a sub-page giving additional information on the Westlink upgrade.

Progress reports and photographs will appear here throughout its period of construction 2006-2009. Most recent additions are at the top. (We will note general progress, but won't note every lane closure - for that, see the Traffic Watch site.)

2006 2007 2008 2009
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4
         Stockman's Lane Bridge Replacement       X                                
                       M1 widening J1 to J2       X                                
 Broadway Roundabout upgrade                  
                                                 Westlink widening                        
 Grosvenor Road junction upgrade       X                              

X - All junctions opened by July 2008.

9 March 2009

The Westlink upgrade is now completed, having been "christened" via the 5k/10k run on Sunday. Over 4000 runners took part, despite the sleet, and thousands of pounds were raised for charity. During the opening ceremony last Friday, the Regional Development Minister described some of the challenges of the scheme, and added that "It is also important to acknowledge the contractor's excellent safety record on this major scheme, which has been delivered without any serious accidents." He also said that "The limited impact of the works on traffic is a result of careful planning by Roads Service and the contractor HMC and the introduction of a range of temporary traffic management measures to minimise disruption." HMC's Project Director Leo Martin said "The construction of the underpasses, and the on-line widening, were particularly challenging but made to look effortless by a team of dedicated staff and subcontractors who worked tirelessly throughout the last three years to get us to where we are now." Some interesting statistics on the scheme:

  • 450 people employed at the height of the project
  • Over 2,000,000 man hours of work was involved

As this will be one of the final updates, on a personal level I would like to say how much I have enjoyed watching this scheme develop, and how impressed I am at the high standard of what has been achieved in this project. Congratulations to all concerned on a first class piece of work.

Intrepid runners on the 10k/5k run on Sunday morning. [Wesley Johnston]

4 March 2009

The M1 and Westlink upgrade is due to be officially opened today by the Regional Development Minister Conor Murphy. This marks the culmination of a scheme that has seen the road from Stockman's Lane to Divis Street widened to three lanes and seen the grade separation of two junctions and the replacement of the bridges at a third. Originally due to be completed in August 2009, the scheme has been completed five months ahead of schedule. Congratulations to all involved. The Between the Bridges 10km/5km fun run will take place on Sunday morning. There is still time to register to take part for this event, which will raise money for the Northern Ireland Hospice. All runners will have the opportunity to run on the Westlink. The 10k runners will also be able to run on the M1 itself.

10 February 2009

The upgraded section of the Westlink has been reduced to two lanes each way all last week and all this week. The purpose of this closure is to complete the "safety barriers, traffic signs, road drainage and other road works resulting from the Road Safety Audit". Roads Service have explained that these works were delayed in order to allow the Westlink's third lane to open early at the end of November. The third lane is scheduled to be open again by Monday 16 February. The scheme is still on schedule for completion later this month. Also, in one of these written answers in Stormont, published yesterday, the Minister stated that the tenders for the construction of a model of Broadway underpass (to allow a study into August's flood) were returned in mid January, with an appointment due around now. This model will now be built, and the results should be known by June of this year.

7 December 2008

On 2 December, the independent report into the flooding of Broadway roundabout on 16 August 2008 was published (downloadable from this link). The report noted that the flood level was below the design capacity of the system (90% of capacity) which should not therefore have flooded. It identified some things that may have contributed to the flood, such as a valve at the exit from the culvert, and rubbish at the entrance to the culvert. However, it was unable to give a definitive reason why the system did not work with a 90% flood. They are now going to construct a 1:20 scale model of the underpass and do further investigations. This is likely to take at least 6 months.

Meanwhile the new third lane of the M1/Westlink in both directions opened to traffic on Saturday 29th November (pic 1, below). Initial reports on Monday morning were that the road was running amazingly freely and commuters seemed very happy with the outcome. As far as the public are concerned, this is the main part of the project essentially completed. All of the junctions along the road are also completed (pic 2), with the exception of Broadway roundabout which is almost completed, but not quite. All the kerbing, new tarmac, traffic signals and white lines are in place. The roundabout is confirmed to be at least 3 lanes wide at all points and is flowing very well now that the bulk of M1/Westlink traffic passes beneath. The two sliproads onto the M1/Westlink have been equipped with variable message signs (VMS) that will form part of the city's complex traffic management system. The only thing left to complete is the centre of the roundabout. The pavements have been re-routed so that they no longer go round the edge of the roundabout, but instead a series of pedestrian crossings get people into the centre where a network of footpaths move them around. These paths are not completed yet. An odd looking foundation is taking shape in the centre of the roundabout. This may possibly be the foundation for the "Rise" sculpture announced last month (pic 4). Congratulations to all involved in this epic project which has run quite ahead of schedule.

Pic 1: The completed M1/Westlink with all three lanes open, looking
north from Broadway roundabout on 7 Dec 2008. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 2: The completed Mulhouse Road left-in/left-out junction beside the completed Westlink, seen on 7 Dec 2008. It gives northbound access to the Royal Victoria Hospital. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 3: Two new VMS signs (the black squares) at the northbound onslip from Broadway roundabout. The final road surface, lights and kerbing are in place. 7 Dec 2008. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 4: An odd set of foundations taking shape in the unfinished centre of Broadway
roundabout on 7 Dec 2008. Could this be for the "Rise" scultpure? [Wesley Johnston]

28 November 2008
The third lane of the M1 and Westlink, from Stockman's Lane to Grosvenor Road, will open to traffic on Monday morning, 1st December. At this point (perhaps allowing a couple of weeks for things to settle down) we will see how well the three year scheme has worked!

16 November 2008
Over the past week, there has been media attention on the fact that there are still bad traffic jams on the Westlink and M1 at certain times. In particular, a traffic jam on Monday 10th November resulted in delays of "up to two hours" for citybound traffic on the M1, despite all the new junctions being open (but with one lane closed). The DRD were unable to provide an explanation for the congestion. While events as bad as this do not occur every day, it becoming apparent to motorists that the Westlink is still badly congested, even when heading south from the M2 where there are no no at-grade junctions. It is likely that part of the problem is the large number of busy junctions - so many vehicles are attempting to enter the road via the new sliproads that traffic slows to a halt. Perhaps some consideration should be given to ramp metering at the new sliproads? (Ramp metering is where traffic levels on the main road are monitored and if traffic slows too much, a red light stops any more vehicles coming down the sliproad until the traffic speeds up again).

However, it must be remembered that the scheme was designed to increase the capacity of the Westlink, but was not designed to eliminate congestion. Indeed, at the public inquiry Roads Service stated that to cope with unrestricted demand and remain free flowing, the Westlink would have to be four or five lanes wide, and that parts of it would return to capacity within three years of opening. In other words, Roads Service did not promise that the outcome of the scheme would be free flowing traffic throughout the rush hour, as some members of the public seem to think. Perhaps the way to look at is this: how much worse would things be if the Westlink had not been upgraded and all this traffic was still trying to go through the traffic lights at Broadway?

Meanwhile, the sculpture to be erected in the centre of Broadway roundabout has been unveiled - it will be a 120-foot high metal sphere called "Rise" (pictures on the BBC new site). The previous sculpture planned for the roundabout was shelved when the price of metal made it too expensive. No timescale has been given for when it will be installed.

21 October 2008

Finishing works are progressing well on Broadway roundabout and along the sides of the sliproads on the M1 and Westlink. According to Roads Service, the new third lane between Divis Street and Stockman's Lane is due to open towards the end of November. Those who would like an opportunity to walk/run on the M1 and Westlink should put 8 March 2009 in their diaries - it's the first "Between the Bridges" fun run between Clifton Street and Stockman's Lane.

14 September 2008

Work has been progressing well on completing the final layout of Broadway roundabout, now that the underpass is open. The red brick wall on the western side of the junction is now finished, and the kerbing on both the inside and outside of the roundabout are well in place (pic 1). It is not yet clear whether the final layout (which will be signalised) will be 2 or 3 lanes wide. The footpath which runs along the western side of the Westlink from Broadway to Grosvenor Road has now been extended to the roundabout along the side of the northbound onslip (pic 2) which has now been reduced to one lane permanently. The underpass is functioning normally. Looking at it you would not know that one month ago it contained almost 100,000,000 litres of water (pic 3)! The stretch of the Westlink between Broadway and Mulhouse Road is now completed, but is still reduced to two lanes and a 30mph speed limit to allow finishing works at various points on the road. The segregated bus lane is already in use, although it won't legally come into existance for another month.

Pic 1: The "final" layout of Broadway taking shape with kerbing in place on the
inside and the outside of the roundabout on 14 Sep 08 [Wesley Johnston].

Pic 2: The northbound onslip to the Westlink from Broadway roundabout has now been reduced to one lane, with the extra space used for the foot/cycle path. 14 Sep 08. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 3: The Westlink seen looking north from Broadway, back to normal
after August's flood, here seen on 14 Sep 2008. [Wesley Johnston]

26 August 2008

The Broadway underpass was reopened to vehicles in the early hours of Tuesday 19th August, less than three days after the flood. The total amount of water was between 50 million and 100 million litres which, according to Roads Service, filled it in 45 minutes. This was far, far in excess of the capability of the pumps to remove it. One of the contractors, speaking on BBC television, said that the pumps in the underpass were designed to pump out falling rain water, but not water flowing into the dip from a nearby flood. His comment on the BBC that "if the Clowney hadn't been there, there wouldn't have been a problem" suggests that the design of the underpass did not take the possibility of the Clowney overflowing adequately into account. I spoke to a hydrologist who agreed that the flood was a "hundred year event ", but that it was widely known as a "flash flood" river and that this type of event would not have been unexpected. An almost identical flood in August 1952 flooded the whole area now occupied by the roundabout. The Regional Development Minister's argument that it was unreasonable to suspect that the underpass would flood because the adjacent M1 had not been flooded in 40 years is unconvincing, since the M1 motorway is not depressed seven metres below ground level, and is above the level of the adjacent Bog Meadows which absorbs flood water. Needless to say, investigations are continuing into this very disappointing episode. Inevitably, people are asking why a flyover was not built instead. Roads Service originally applied for permission to built a flyover, but were refused on the grounds of visual obtrusiveness, so the choice of an underpass cannot be blamed on them. In other news, the "Trillian" sculpture planned to grace Broadway roundabout when finished has now been scrapped thanks to rising steel prices. See this news story.

17 August 2008

Today a team of firefighters, HMC contractors and Roads Service are working to clear Broadway underpass. It's now confirmed that the flood happened when the Clowney Water overflowed on the western side of Broadway roundabout after about three inches of rain fell in twelve hours. The Clowney comes from west Belfast, behind the Park Centre, and enters a culvert just beside the smaller Donegall Road roundabout. It was at this spot that the river overflowed, having completely overwhelmed the new culvert. This video on YouTube shows a motorist attempting to escape from the underpass as it began filling with water, and this astonishing video shows the scene shortly afterwards when the underpass was filling at an incredible rate. Apparently five motorists had to abandon their cars to the water, and one had to be rescued from the roof of his submerged car. The water then reached the sliproads which, at Broadway, dip slightly in the middle. At least one more car was claimed by the waters here, and the police had to remove part of the crash barrier with an angle grinder to allow people to escape. All told, it appears to have been a very frightening event.

Paul Smith captured this image of the underpass starting to fill around 3pm on 16 August. Taken from the relative safety of the southbound offslip, with water pouring past. At this point the street lights inside the underpass were still functioning as the water rose towads them. [Paul Smith]

By 7pm the underpass was completely full of 20 million gallons (over 70,000 tonnes) of dirty river water. The rain stopped around 9pm and engineers began pumping the water out a rate of 7000 gallons per minute in the early hours of the morning. Nevertheless, it looks likely that the underpass will not be completely drained in time for the morning rush hour and Roads Service are already putting contingency plans in place. In any case, even when it is clear, the mud will have to be removed and repairs carried out. The dozens of traffic cones that were washed away will also have to be retrieved and re-laid.

I spoke to some contractors on the site. They insisted that there was no design fault with the underpass and that it had simply been overwhelmed by an extreme weather event. Certainly it would be hard to conceive of a pumping system or overflow chamber that could hold back 20 million gallons of water. Still, with climate change now a reality, weather events like this are no longer uncommon I do feel it is valid to ask whether the design is at least "too optimistic" in terms of the amount of water likely to come down the Clowney and Blackstaff Rivers. When the Broadway roundabout last flooded (December 2007) it was caused by the same river overflowing at the same spot. Only the fact that the underpass had not been excavated prevented a flood of this scale. It could be that this is not the first time we see the Broadway underpass submerged in water and the ensuing chaos.

The view north along the Westlink from the top of the Broadway underpass
at lunch time on 17 August 2008. [Wesley Johnston]

The flooded underpass, now pumped down about five feet below its original depth, at lunch time on 17 August 2008. Seen from the northbound onslip. [Wesley Johnston]

16 August 2008

During this afternoon and evening Belfast has seen a spell of several house of very heavy rain which has led to a DISASTER for the Westlink. During the afternoon water coming from the surrounding roads and rivers began flowing across Broadway roundabout, and then into the underpass. The underpass is equipped with a pumping station. However, the pumping station can only put the water into the surrounding drainage system - the source of the flood. The result was that by 7pm tonight the Broadway underpass was completely FULL of water - 7 metres / 20 feet deep. The picture below from BBC shows the underpass this evening. This is a real blow not only for the project, but for the city as a whole. The roundabout was flooded in a similar manner about a year ago, albeit before the underpass was excavated, so this event is not without precedent.

The underpass completely full of water in the evening of 16th August. [BBC news]

Broadway roundabout is unique among the five underpasses on the Westlink in that two live rivers run beside it - the Clowney Water a few metres to the west, and the Blackstaff adjacent to the east. The problem is that these rivers are underground and therefore have a fixed capacity. Despite the construction of a large overflow chamber under Broadway roundabout, the fact that the design has now failed so disastrously just six weeks after opening suggests fundamental design flaws in terms of its ability to handle this type of heavy and persistent rain, that has become more frequent in recent years.

1 August 2008

A number of site visitors have written and commented that the lane markings at the recently completed Stockman's Lane roundabout are confusing. In particular, people coming from the Falls direction and heading to the M1 west are apparently being misdirected onto the centre lane of the roundabout, meaning that they then have to drive diagonally across two other lanes to get to the M1. This was supported on the BBC News this evening where a reporter investigated and found much evidence of confusion. Roads Service have said that it is to be expected that newly restructured junctions will have teething problems and that the problem will be rectified "within the next few weeks".

20 July 2008

As the M1/Westlink project is now largely complete with the exception of the top of Broadway roundabout, we are now in "wind down" mode with less progress to report as time goes on. The Westlink widening works are now finished at all points, although still only two of the three lanes are open. Site visitors continue to report dramatically reduced journey times, particularly for journeys towards the M1, as would be expected. At Broadway, works are now well underway to complete the roundabout on top of the underpass. This has been made much easier now that the bulk of traffic no longer has to use the roundabout. Picture 1 below shows the southbound offslip with the Westlink/M1 to the left. Picture 2 shows the point where the offslip joins the roundabout. Note that all the signs on the roundabout itself are now white-backed local signs, as opposed to the green-backed primary signs that were in use before the underpass opened. At the M1 side of the roundabout (picture 3), the temporary road surface beside the underpass has been removed leaving a vast area of wasteground between the underpass and the smaller Donegall Road roundabout. It's not clear what will happen to this land, but the artists impressions released at the start of the project show the land occupied by an expanded Donegall Road roundabout. In addition, a large amount of topsoil has been dumped in the centre of Broadway roundabout suggesting that final landscaping will soon get underway. Construction of the red brick wall between the roundabout and Broadway Flats is also continuing. The segregated busway running between Broadway roundabout and the Europa bus centre is also completed (picture 4), including the onslip that allows buses to join the southbound Westlink at Roden Street.

Pic 1: The view north east along the M1/Westlink from the southbound offslip on 20 July 2008. Even now, only two of the three lanes are open on the M1/Westlink. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 2: View in the opposite direction from the same location as pic 1. The Broadway roundabout now has white-backed "local" signage since it's no longer part of the main Westlink. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 3: Looking south west along the M1 from Broadway on 20 July 2008. Until 2-3 weeks ago all citybound traffic ran to the right here, but the tarmac has now been removed. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 4: The completed inbound segregated busway seen from Broadway roundabout on 20 July 2008. Outbound buses join the Westlink directly at Roden Street. [Wesley Johnston]

Earlier Progress Reports

For the progress reports from February 2008 to early July 2008, click here.

For the progress reports from October 2007 to February 2008, click here.

For the progress reports from July 2007 to September 2007, click here.

For the progress reports from March 2007 to June 2007, click here.

For the progress reports from December 2006 to February 2007, click here.

For the earliest progress reports, up to November 2006, click here.