A26 dualling - Glarryford to A44 Drones Road

 

Status
Construction scheme (future)
Where
To dual about a third of the A26 between Ballymena and Ballymoney, which forms part of the main route north from Belfast via Antrim to Coleraine.
Total Length
7.0km / 4.4 miles
Dates

Scheme proposed in RSTN TP, 2005

Public Information Day held 15-16 Nov 2006

Preferred route announced - 11 Aug 2008

Draft legal documents published - 20 Mar 2012
Public Exhibition - 26-27 Mar 2012
Public Inquiry took place from 5 Nov 2012

Scheme given finance and approved for construction 21 Oct 2013

Scheme put out to initial tender - 4 Dec 2013

Advance site works contract began - 27 Jan 2014
Construction to begin "late 2014" (as of Oct 2013)
Construction to take 24 months (as of Oct 2013), so completion due late 2016

(changed from "by 2018" as of Nov 2008, changed from "early 2010" as of Nov 2006)

Cost

£65m (as of Dec 2013)
(revised from £61m as of June 2012; revised from £50m-£70m as of April 2010; £52m as of August 2008; itself revised from £33.4m as of 2006; and that revised from £22.9m as of 2005)

Photos
See below.
See Also

General area map

Official web site for the scheme (Roads Service)

Leaflet, including design of the new road - PDF format

A26 Ballymena to Glarryford on this site

The A26 is the principal route north from Antrim to Coleraine, passing Ballymena and Ballymoney on the way. It is very busy, particularly at peak times and in the summer when holidaymakers go to the north coast. If the original motorway plans of the 1960s had taken place, this traffic would all be carried by the M2. However, the M2 was never completed and so the A26 carries the burden. The dualling of the section from Antrim to Ballymena was completed between 1989 and 2001. The section north of Ballymena, which according to Roads Service carries 18,000 vehicles per day, has been dualled as far as Glarryford (about 7km). This scheme will see the next 7km dualled as far as the A44 Drones Road junction where all the traffic for Ballycastle diverts. The map below shows the section in question.


Google Earth screenshot showing the section of the A26 to be
upgraded via this scheme. Note that the label "B16" is incorrect.

The route of the scheme, announced in August 2008, is essentially an online upgrade of the existing road, drifting offline only to bypass the Frosses Trees and to cross a river near Clogh Mills. The road will have three "compact" grade separated junctions (ie flyovers) which are, from south to north at:

  • B64 Springmount Road/Station Road (near Glarryford)
  • C61 Lisnasoo Road (just north of the Frosses Trees)
  • B93 Killagan Road / B94 Drumadoon Road (at Logan's Fashions)

Other than these locations, vehicles will NOT be permitted to turn right across the central reservation which will be entirely closed. There will be ten left-in/left-out T-junctions along the road to give access to properties and farms not accessible from the grade separated junctions. The upgrade will terminate at a new roundabout at the A26/A44 Drones Road junction which is currently a Y-junction for traffic heading to Ballycastle to diverge. The Frosses Trees will be preserved in the form of two laybys adjacent to the upgraded road. You can see a map of the proposed road in PDF format by clicking here. Please tell me if this link does not work, as Roads Service sometimes change links. The road will feature a shared foot/cycleway along its length.

The purpose of the scheme is to reduce traffic congestion by increasing the road's capacity/overtaking opportunities, and improving safety by reducing conflicting movements and eliminating head-on overtaking. Arup were commissioned in April 2006 to develop the project.

The Frosses Trees

The famous "Frosses Trees" section of the A26 is near Clogh Mills where beautiful mature trees were been planted down each side in 1839 creating a tunnel effect (see photo below). The trees are arranged in two groups - the larger, southern, one known as the "Big Frosses" and the smaller, northern one, known as the "Wee Frosses". Many local children try to hold their breath as they travel the full length of the trees! Although a number of trees have been felled recently due to their age, the public would not tolerate any attempt to remove this feature. The design of the road has therefore been carefully selected to preserve this remarkable feature in the form of two lay-bys so that drivers can still visit them. See photos below for a picture of the Frosses Trees.

Other Routes Considered

Roads Service considered five route options before settling on the Blue Route.

  1. The Orange Route involves largely widening 60% of the existing road with an offline route on the northern end to the west of the current road.
  2. The Green Route is to widen 80% of the existing road with 20% of the northern end offline to the west.
  3. The Blue Route is to widen the existing road in its entirity. This option was chosen.
  4. The Red Route is an almost entirely new alignment to the east of the current road.
  5. The Yellow Route is only entirely offline east of the current road at the south end and to the west at the north end.

Maps of these options are available here.

Updates

25 Jul 2014: In the previous update I mentioned how preliminary site works would be taking place during 2014. People driving past will have noticed trees disappearing and new fences being erected. These fences separate the land vested by the DRD from the land still owned by private landowners, and are sometimes replaced by more permanent fences after the works are complete. The work also includes archaeological investigations. Doing this now reduces the changes of high-profile hold-ups, such as the well-publicised delays to the A32 Cherrymount Link in Enniskillen two years ago following the discovery of a significant crannog. The archaeological works have been taking place and a month ago Roads Service (or TransportNI as they are now called) revealed that they had found significant artefacts, including an early Christian souterrain. Here is an article in the Belfast Telegraph on the topic. The scheme is still out to tender, with the contractor currently expected to be appointed "in the autumn" with work presumably to start almost straight away.

20 Jan 2014: According to the DRD, and advance site works contract is to get underway on this scheme next week. This work is separate from the main construction contract which is still in the early part of the tendering process and won't go to ground until the autumn. The work involves three tasks which must take place before the main work begins. Firstly, they will be installing fences along all the land that has now been purchased from landowners along the route. This will make the boundary of the site clear to both the landowners and the eventual contractor. They almost invariably consist of wooden posts with wire stretched between them. Secondly, they will be conducting vegetation clearance, especially the removal of trees and hedgerows which are problematic to remove later in the year since there is legislation about disturbing nesting birds. This means less work for the eventual contractor who can immediately start into service diversions and earthworks. Thirdly, they will be stripping off topsoil, especially anywhere where archaeology is suspected to exist. DRD have a statutory duty to investigate any archaeology that is found or suspected to exist, and doing this work now reduces the chances of a later discovery delaying the scheme. I have not yet marked the scheme as "underway", as this advance site works contract is not the main contract and thus can't really count as the project beginning. As said above, we can expect this in the autumn.

8 Dec 2013: The scheme has now been put out to tender (on the DRD web site and on the EU tenders web page). This first tender is actually part one of a two part process, in which construction firms bid to be included on a selected list of firms that will be invited to submit a more detailed bid in the second round. This is done to prevent a situation where dozens and dozens of companies who have no chance of winning the work submit detailed bits and waste everyone's time. In this first round the companies have to demonstrate that they have the means, skill and have realistic expectations on what is involved to complete the work. Construction companies have until 28 January 2014 to submit their bids for inclusion. After that the second part of the tender process - the more detailed bidding - will be advertised. The selection of a contractor typically takes about nine months from now, so we're likely to see the winner appointed in autumn 2014 with work likely to begin almost straight away. This is good news for the construction sector as well as users of this road. Amended 9 Dec: The DRD Minister, in a Question for Written Answer in the Assembly, has confirmed that the current estimated cost of the scheme is £65m.

4 Dec 2013: Two days ago Roads Service finally published the outcome of the Public Inquiry and their response to it, known as the Departmental Statement. All the documents can be accessed here. While quite a few objections were made to the scheme, the Inspector made only minor recommendations which were all accepted in substance by Roads Service. These generally related to the impact on individual landowners near the scheme, and would be important to them, but do not have a significant impact on the scheme which will proceed more or less as planned. The construction tender is due to be released this month. It normally takes about 9 month from publication of a tender to construction work commencing, which is in keeping with Roads Service's own reference to work beginning in "late 2014". (While everything has been done above board and within the rules, I do think it was slightly bad form for the DRD Minister to have announced that the scheme would proceed prior to the public inquiry report being published. While it wouldn't have made any material difference in this case, the DRD needs to avoid giving the impression that public inquiries are mere "rubber stamp" exercises.) The inspector's report alludes to a plan by Logan's (a large retail operation on the route to be upgraded) to build a park-and-share facility on their property in apparent competition with Roads Service's planned similar facility which would be located nearby on the other side of the A26. The report was written some months ago, however, so the situation has probably moved on since then.

30 Oct 2013: Roads Service have now confirmed that my predictions in the last update were pretty close! Subject to the outcome of the public inquiry, construction will begin in "late 2014" and will last approximately 24 months. This means that we will see the road completed late 2016, three years from now. DRD have also stated that the public inquiry report and their response to it (the Departmental Statement) will be published "in the coming weeks". Finally Arup, the company designing the road for Roads Service, have put up a fabulous simulation of a journey northbound along the finished road on YouTube. Well worth a look, and enough to whet the appetite of anyone who endures this road regularly. If you want to see more detailed plans of the proposed road, click here.

21 Oct 2013: In the previous update (see below) I commented that I would be surprised if this scheme managed to proceed to construction ahead of the desperately-needed A6 Randalstown to Castledawson scheme. Well today I am surprised, because that is exactly what has happened. Today in the Assembly funding was announced that funding was being given to commence construction of this scheme "in 2014/15", ie it would begin any time from April 2014 to April 2015, so between 6 and 18 months from now. It seems slightly odd to have announced that a scheme is going to proceed before the outcome of the public inquiry has even been published, but this suggests that the inquiry inspector has recommended that the scheme proceed. I would anticipate that the public inquiry report and DRD's response (the "Departmental Statement") will be published in the near future. After that the scheme will probably proceed rapidly to procurement, a process which typically takes around 9 months, while the Vesting Order (to acquire the land) will also proceed. So in a best-case scenario we could be looking at work commencing in the autumn of 2014. No timescale has yet been given, but I would expect that construction of a scheme like this would probably take roughly two years, perhaps a bit more. I have also written a piece weighing up the decision to proceed with this scheme against the A6 over on my blog.

16 Sep 2013: There is still no sign of the publication of the report into the Public Inquiry that took place in November 2012 - DRD have now had the report in their possession for about 4 months. This is not an unusual length of time by any means, but I would like to think that we will see it, and their response (the "Departmental Statement"), published in the not-too-distant future. There are hints of other movements behind the scenes. In the last update I suggested that this scheme might benefit from the delay to the A5 dualling scheme. In a Written Answer published today, the DRD Minister certainly seems to be of this mind. He said "I have heavily promoted this scheme in the 2014/15 Capital Budget Exercise, and will continue to do so in the forthcoming October Monitoring Round, with a view to securing the funds to allow construction to commence in 2014/15." The DRD don't get money to spend on whatever major construction schemes they want. Rather, they have to ask for money for individual construction projects, and these compete on merit with bids from other Departments in the NI Executive, like Education and Health. The 2013/14 budget is already set (the A31 Magherafelt Bypass being one of the beneficiaries) so the 2014/15 budget round is the next available tranche of money. The DRD Minister seems to see this scheme as his priority for this funding round. He also details some of his apparent struggles with the Finance Minister in this way: "After initially declining the meeting [about funding the A26 scheme], I am happy to report that the Finance Minister has now recognised the importance of an early discussion on this issue, he has agreed to a meeting and we are due to meet in the near future." The DRD Minister had been specifically asked about the A26 scheme in this Written Answer, so he did not comment in this level of detail on other proposed road schemes. However, and not to diminish the advantages of this scheme, I would be surprised if it managed to proceed to construction ahead of the desperately-needed A6 Randalstown to Castledawson scheme.

27 May 2013: In the last update I noted that the Inspector at November's Public Inquiry was to have submitted her report to the DRD early in 2013, and according to this press release this now seems to have happened. The next stage will be the DRD's response, which will take the form of a Departmental Statement, which will take a few months to analyse and draft. Both it and the Inspector's report will then be published at once. It is just as well that the legal process is progressing, as this scheme seems to be one of those that *may* benefit from the delay in the A5 scheme. In the Assembly last week, the "Roads" Minister said "The situation is such that we now have to look at other potential schemes that can be brought forward. I have indicated that I am doing that in conjunction with Executive colleagues, principally the Finance Minister, and we will continue to do that. The schemes that are most procurement-ready include the A26 Glarryford scheme,... the A6 [Randalstown to Castledawson] scheme, the Magherafelt bypass and the A55 [Outer Ring widening at Knock] scheme in Belfast." There is, of course, no guarantee that this scheme will actually get the go-ahead, and of all those listed it is the furthest from being able to go to ground, but at least it's being considered.

11 Feb 2013: The minutes of a Roads Service meeting held in December, but only just published indicate that the Inspector at November's Public Inquiry will submit her report to the DRD "early in 2013". The DRD will have to take time to consider this, and will then publish both the report and their response (the "Departmental Statement"), presumably in a few months' time.

12 Dec 2012: The minutes of a Roads Service meeting held in June, but only just published, confirm that the estimated cost of this scheme has now been pinned down at £61m (as opposed to the range £50m-£70m). The Public Inquiry happened in November as planned. I would not expect to hear more on this for at least a year. The Inspector has to write her report, and then the DRD has to study it and respond.

8 Sep 2012: The DRD have announced that the Public Inquiry will begin at 10am on 5 November 2012, at the Tullyglass Hotel, Galgorm Road, Ballymena, BT42 1HJ. The Inspector will be Ms Eileen Brady. I would urge everyone with an interest in the scheme to turn up, as this is a crucial opportunity to have your concerns heard. The recent A5 public inquiry resulted in dozens and dozens of tweaks to address the concerns of landowners.

24 Jun 2012: As expected, the DRD Minister has announced that a Public Inquiry will be held into this scheme. It has only attracted 20 objections during the consultation period that ended in May 2012, but nevertheless Roads Service feel it appropriate to convene an Inquiry. It will probably be held in early November. There is currently no financial commitment to actually build the scheme, but it is important to keep progressing the scheme so that it is 'good to go' if and when money becomes available.

20 Mar 2012: The draft legal documents have just been published, a good bit later than anticipated last summer (see previous update). This includes a summary of the Environmental Statement (a document that has to be created to set out the pros and cons of the scheme); the draft Trunk Road Order (required to permit Roads Service to construct a new trunk road); the draft Vesting Order (which allows Roads Service to compel landowners to sell the land required); and a draft Stopping-Up Order (which allows Roads Service to compel some landowners to stop using direct accesses onto the A26). The first of these documents contains a map of the road as currently proposed. A public exhibition setting out the current position will be held at the Tullyglass House Hotel (178 Galgorm Road, Ballymena, Co Antrim BT42 1HJ) from 2pm to 9pm on 27 and 28 March 2012. I would urge all those with any interest in the scheme to turn up and talk to the Roads Service representatives. Any formal comments must be received by 11 May 2012. Comparing the preferred route map from 2008 with the map published now, the main change is to the design of the Killagan Road/Drumadoon Road compact grade separated junction (known to most people as the location of Logan's Fashions), where it seems more use will be made of the existing road network than originally planned. Presumably there will be a Public Inquiry: at this stage, a date in the autumn seems plausible, although nothing has been said officially. Note that there is currently no budget allocation to build this scheme - but it is being progressed through all these design and legal processes to that it is 'good to go' if and when money becomes available at a future date.

4 Jul 2011: The Minister has now said that the draft legal documents required to build the road will be published "later this year", and that a Public Inquiry will likely be held in Spring 2012. This is the first official indication that a Public Inquiry is expected within the next year, although it was mooted unofficially late last year (see previous update).

30 Dec 2010: In response to a written request for an update on this scheme, the Regional Development Minister gave an update on progress. He said that "it is planned to publish the Draft Orders early in 2011/12" (a milestone previously given as "mid 2011"). Construction is still far off, with the Minister saying only that subject to finance it "could" commence before 2018. I have been in indirect contact with a landowner affected by the scheme who tells me that he was contacted in mid November to say that the scheme is progessing as planned with the draft orders due to be processed by "late spring or early summer". He was told that while negotiations have gone well with most landowners, a few remain unhappy. A public inquiry was mooted for 2012.

2 May 2010: Roads Service have updated the costs on their web site, with the cost of the scheme being revised up from £52m to the range £50m-£70m. There is no change to the timescale.

22 Feb 2010: In a written answer in the Assembly, the Regional Development Minister has said that although this scheme is in the final stages of the assessment process, the next milestone (publication of legal documents) has been pushed back to "mid 2011", more than a year later than he stated in March 2009 (see below). Although this is a substantial delay, it will probably make no material difference to road users since construction has always been anticipated to be towards 2018 anyway.

18 Mar 2009: In a written answer in the Assembly, the Regional Development Minister has said the Enviromental Statement and draft orders (such as land aquisition) will be published during the 2009/10 financial year, ie by April 2010. He also confirmed that construction is not anticpated until the "latter part" of the investment period, ie in the 5-10 year timeframe.

2 Feb 2009: Roads Service released a leaflet about the scheme in November 2008. It summarises the scheme in its current form, including a map of the current design. It notes that "The ‘Preferred Route’ is now being developed which involves undertaking statutory procedures for environment,
planning and land acquisition and will lead to the publication of mandatory Draft Orders and an Environmental Statement. The ‘Investment Delivery Plan for Roads’ estimates that this scheme will be delivered within the period 2013 to 2018.
" It could thus be quite a few years before work commences.

11 Aug 2008: The preferred route has been announced - the entirely online Blue Route. The scheme also features three compact grade separated junctions which will lead to major safety improvements, and probably accounts for the fact that the price has risen from £33m in 2006 to £52m today. See above for more details.

24 Apr 2008: According to an Assembly written answer, the Department of Regional Development expects to announce the preferred route "around mid 2008". The process to decide between the five route options is still ongoing.

July 2006: The cost of £22.9m publicised in 2005 had increased to £33m by the time this public consultation was released in July 2006.

Photos

The beautiful "Frosses Trees" section of the A26 Frosses Road near Clogh Mills where trees are lined close along each side. Taken looking north in late August 2006. This stretch will be preserved as a lay-by. [Photo by Aubrey Dale]