A6 Dualling - Randalstown (M22) to Castledawson (archive)


This page is supplementary to the main page about this scheme and holds older site updates.

Progress (21 December 2019 and earlier)

21 Dec 2019: The contractor has not been putting up videos on YouTube much recently, perhaps because the videos were more for keeping track of excavations than for public interest, but it does mean I have had a bit more of a struggle to keep track of what's going on. This update is pieced together from various Tweets as well as this update posted on the contractor's web site earlier in December. Firstly, although the Randalstown to Toome section is essentially complete, the footprint of the former road at the Randalstown West junction has now become a borrow pit - so it's being excavated down to quite a depth - see pic 1 below. Secondly, work continues to progress at the three new grade-separated junctions on the offline stretch between Toome and Castledawson. The bridge at The Creagh is well advanced, with the bridge deck under construction. This bridge is not on any existing road, so will probably not open until the new dual-carriageway opens. The nearby Deerpark Road flyover, however, replaces the existing Deerpark Road which currently runs beside it. Deerpark Road will therefore need to be closed for 8 weeks during the spring of 2020 to allow the road to be realigned over the new bridge. Something similar will happen at the Hillhead Road junction (eastern access to Castledawson) which will be closed from 21 January until late March to allow the road to be realigned over the new flyover there. No major work is currently taking place on the stretch of new road between The Creagh and Deerpark Road, due to environmental restrictions close to Lough Beg, but work continues between Deerpark Road and Hillhead Road (see pic 2 below) where the formation of the new road is becoming much clearer. On the Castledawson Bypass, all traffic switched to the future eastbound carriageway at the beginning of December (a week later than planned; see pic 3 below) to allow further work on the westbound carriageway. At the same time, the new Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road grade-separated junction opened to traffic, albeit with Give Way arrangements rather than onslips "for ten months" (pic 4 below). This mention of "ten months" by the contractor implies that it will be at least the autumn of 2020 before all four lanes of the Castledawson Bypass open to traffic. In other news, the A6 scheme won a Green Apple Environmental Award from The Green Organisation - the scheme got Bronze award in the Building and Construction category. Contratulations! Finally, the NI Audit Office has included this scheme in a recent report into major capital projects and gives the estimated total cost of the scheme as £189m, well up on the £160m being quoted in 2016. The NIAO estimates that the unsuccessful legal challenge to the scheme added approximately £11m to the cost of the scheme and a year to the construction timescale. Anyway, Happy Christmas, and here are the pictures:

Pic 1: Aerial view of the completed Randalstown West junction in mid December 2019, showing the line of the former road on the right now being used as a borrow pit. The jew junction is already maturing with vegetation covering the new banks. [Still from this YouTube movie]

Pic 2: Computer-generated aerial view of the new dual-carriageway under construction between Castledawson and Toome in mid December 2019. This is the view east from close to the Hillhead Road junction, with the Deerpark Road junction off frame ahead. The large area of exposed earth on the left is another borrow pit, which appears to now be being filled in again. [Still from this YouTube movie]

Pic 3: View of the terminus of the scheme at the Castledawson Roundabout during the switchover from the westbound to the eastbound carriageway (the more distant of the two here) at the start of December. [Graham Farrans image from here]

Pic 4: View east along the new A6 Castledawson Bypass from the new Bellshill Road flyover, showing the eastbound offslip now fully open, and the onslip partly open. All traffic is currently using the future eastbound carriageway. Note the nice V-shaped gully on the left edge of the road. Note also the concrete accommodation lane visible in the top left. [Graham Farrans image from here]

9 Nov 2019: With work on the Randalstown to Toome section now essentially complete, attention is focused on the more complex stretch from Toome to Castledawson. From 28 October traffic on the Castledawson Bypass was switched from the future westbound carriageway onto the future eastbound carriageway once again to facilitate final surfacing works. Work has also been ongoing throughout October to complete the Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road junction and from the same date (28 Oct) local traffic was able to use the new flyover but without access onto the A6. Annaghmore Road South was permanently stopped up at the same time, while the Bellshill Road North will be closed permanently from next month. At some point soon Annaghmore Road North will presumably also be closed, with access via the new junction. The contractor has said that the plan is to open the stretch from Hillhead Road junction (near the new footbridge at Brough Road) to Castledawson Roundabout fully prior to the rest of the road, but that this won't be for "some time" yet.

Major works are now suspended for the winter on the stretch of the site passing close to Lough Beg due to the presence of overwintering swans, but work can continue on the rest of the scheme, especially the offline stretch from Hillhead Road in Toome to Deerpark Road. The bridge beams for the Hillhead Road bridge, the last bridge to get its beams, were lifted into place during the week of 7 October - see photo below. The contractor has not posted any aerial footage on YouTube for a month now, which is disappointing. However, Google Earth have updated their imagery of the area, though it's only visible in "historical mode" on Google Earth. You can now see the site as it was on 26 August this year. I'm not posting any screenshots, as that's over two month ago and hence out of date, but do check it out if you're interested. In other random bits of news - (1) The scheme has apparently won an "environmental award", with DFI to receive it at a ceremony later in November. (2) The scheme will appear in the next season of the engineering series Ulster Giants. Filming took place in October.

The whole scheme is due to be completed by early 2021, so a little under a year and a half to go.

A member of camera crew filming a beam lift (possibly Hillhead Road, Castledawson) in October 2019 for the next season of Ulster Giants [DFI image].

21 Sep 2019: The "official" opening of the new section of dual-carriageway from Randalstown to Toome, which opened to traffic on 4 August, took place on 12 September. Unusually, because there is currently no Executive, it was opened not by the DFI Minister but by Katrina Godfrey, Permanent Secretary of DFI, plus two local schoolchildren (see pic below). Two children (Juliet Murray and Grace O'Botle) wrote poems about the road - the first poems I have seen specifically written about a new road - which you can read at the bottom of this page (along with pictures and quotes from various people involved in the scheme). Thank you to them! The opening coincided with the re-opening of the new Randalstown West grade-separated junction at the western end of the M22 where the new A6 begins. Disappointingly, the junction seems to have lost its junction number - it was M22 junction "3" when it was a T-junction, but seems to have no number now that it has a flyover and sliproads!

There was a bit of negative publicity after the opening due to the appearance of long traffic jams westbound at Drumderg roundabout in Toome. Some concluded on the basis of this that the road should not have been built. Two points on this. Firstly, the decision to leave Drumderg roundabout and Roguery Road roundabout in-situ on the Toome Bypass was a poor one, and one which I suspect DFI already know was a mistake. The decision was taken ten years ago when policy was different, but with all the legal controversy around the road during the planning stages, DFI will not have wanted to revisit the design. The decision will continue to haunt us, I suspect, for the next ten to twenty years as this has created a new "Hillsborough Roundabout" situation. Nevertheless, I am also told that much of the congestion we saw at Toome was caused by the ongoing roadworks on the Castledawson end of the scheme. With local road closures, many people are going though Toome village and using the back roads to Magherafelt. This traffic can't all squeeze through Toome, so is backing up onto the Drumderg roundabout, interfering with Derry-bound traffic. This problem should mitigate once the remainder of the scheme is open. All of this, of course, ignores the fact that the new road is substantially safer than the old Moneynick Road - the fatality rate on A-class dual-carriageways is approximately half that of A-class single-carriageways.

All attention now focuses on the Castledawson to Toome stretch which is due to open in about 18 months' time. As always, the best way to get an overall view of the scheme is to watch the latest aerial movie. I've provided a brief commentary below, where numbers refer to the minutes and seconds in the video.

0:00 Starting at Castledawson roundabout, where the footpath connecting the two footbridges is well developed.
0:02 Start of Castledawson Bypass. All traffic is using the future westbound carriageway, which is already completed. Work on the future eastbound carriageway is well advanced.
0:12 New agricultural accommodation lane visible on right. These generally have concrete surfaces.
0:20 Future westbound layby.
0:24 Annaghmore Road, which is to be permanently closed after completion.
0:39 Future Annaghmore/Bellshill Road grade-separated junction looking close to completion with road surfacing being laid.
0:52 Moyola River bridges - original 1992 bridge on the left, new bridge on the right.
1:03 Point where the new road diverges from the current A6. New footbridge visible.
1:16 Future Hillhead Road grade-separated junction with bridge abutments and central pier under construction, but with the bridge beams yet to be placed.
1:33 Foundation of new road now in place on this cross-country stretch.
1:51 Deerpark Road junction with the approach embankments in place, plus the curved embankment (lower left) for the east-facing sliproads. The existing Deerpark Road runs beyond the bridge. It needs to be diverted up onto the bridge before the west-facing sliproads can be built (on the site at upper right).
2:00 This stretch runs close to Lough Beg and will be off-limits to the contractor from October due to overwintering swans. The foundation of the new road are well-advanced here.
2:11 New farm accommodation bridge in place, but as yet without approach embankments. The huge borrow pit that was dug in Aughrim Hill (on the right) has now been largely filled in again. It will be restored to its former appearance once work is completed.
2:20 Farm accommodation underpass.
2:25 Farm accommodation overbridge with approach embankments underway.
2:34 The Creagh grade-separated junction. The bridge beams were lifted into place a couple of weeks ago. A short length of new road will connect it to the existing Creagh roundabout, off frame to the right.
2:45 Road re-joins existing Toome Bypass. The existing Toome Bypass from here to Creagh Roundabout will be reduced from a dual-carriageway to a single-carriageway.
2:53 New SuDS detention pond visible at lower left - this stores water during a heavy rain event and releases it slowly, preventing flash flooding of local watercourses.
2:55 Hillhead Road T-junction, at Toome. Access to Toome here will be closed off, and instead Toome will be connected directly to The Creagh roundabout via a new single-carriageway, which all traffic is currently using, visible on the right here.

Finally, there is always space for photos, so here are some!

Official opening of the A6 between Randalstown and Toome on 12 Sep 2019, taken from Randalstown West bridge. [DFI Roads image]

Beam lift at The Creagh grade-separated junction on 6 Sep 2019 (with current A6 and Creagh roundabout visible beyond). [DFI]

Aerial view of the first beam being lifted into place at The Creagh on 6 Sep 2019. Note the falsework (in red) already attached to the site of the beam - this is a walkway for workers to use once the beams are in place. [DFI]

Another view of the first beam being placed at The Creagh on 6 Sep 2019. The route of the future dual-carriageway towards Deerpark Road is visible going into the distance, with the wetlands around Lough Beg beyond the fields on the right. [DFI]

View of the new Deerpark Road flyover, from the existing Deerpark Road, on 13 Aug 2019. The photographer is standing where there will eventually be a curved embankment to carry the west-facing sliproads. However, this cannot be started until Deerpark Road has been diverted up and over this new bridge. [Arthur Ming]

Computer-generated 3D aerial view of Castledawson roundabout as it was c19 Sep 2019, showing the two new bridges in place and the earthworks for the central sculpture and walkway in place. The new A6 is to the bottom, with the existing A6 towards Derry to the top right, and the new A31 Magherafelt Bypass to the left. [still from Graham/Farrans aerial movie]

16 Aug 2019: The first half of this scheme – the new section of dual-carriageway from Randalstown to Toome – opened to traffic slightly ahead of schedule, at 9.30pm on 4 August 2019. I missed it due to being on holiday, but here is a belated update focusing exclusively on this stretch though, of course, work will be ongoing between Toome and Castledawson until early 2021. The opening brings to a close a 47-year hiatus that had lasted since the M22 motorway scheme was cancelled in 1972 and will be a great relief to residents of the Moneynick Road and long-distance travellers alike. Well done to everyone at Graham/Farrans JV for a great piece of work. The road opened with both lanes and the maximum national speed limit (70 mph for most cars) along most of its length, only dropping to one lane and 50 mph at the eastern end where work is still taking place on the "Randalstown West" junction. This work means that eastbound traffic is currently unable to leave the A6 here, so for now non-motorway traffic is allowed to travel along the M22 as far as junction 2. Work at the Randalstown West junction is due to be completed by early September. Signage has also confirmed that the existing Moneynick Road, the former A6, has now become the B183. The best way to see the whole stretch, if you can't drive it of course, is via this computer-generated aerial movie created by the contractor on or after opening day which begins at Toome and ends at Randalstown West.

A number of observations can be made about the new Randalstown West junction, the point where the existing M22 joins the new A6 dual-carriageway. This location is shown in the first two photos below, before and after the new stretch opened. Firstly, the junction has been officially (i.e. on signs) named "Randalstown West". This is a change since at the time the M22 was opened in 1973, and for years after, Roads Service referred to the junction in literature by the name "Artresnahan", the name of the townland it is in. Secondly, the junction was identfied on signs as "junction 3" of the M22 right up until this scheme started, but the new signs that have appeared omit the junction number entirely. This is either a mistake, or suggests that the junction is no longer regarded as part of the M22, which brings me to the next point. Thirdly, the M22 "start of motorway" sign eastbound has been placed after the end of the onslip. This is a very odd place for a "start of motorway" sign, since it's more normal to place it at the last opportuntiy for non-motorway traffic to take an alternative route, since it is legal for non-motorway traffic to travel as far as this sign. It allows a scenario where (say) a horse-drawn vehicle could come onto the dual-carriageway eastbound and travel along it until coming to this sign, at which point they would be forced to come to a halt with no way to move forward or back unless a police officer came to direct them to pass the sign. It has been suggested that this may be due to DFI being unable to get a new motorway regulation approved without a Minister, but even that doesn't quite make sense since the new sign is much further east than the old one was. We shall have to wait and see how that one resolves itself. Fourthly, signage purists will note that the "start of motorway" sign is also in the wrong font – "Transport" when it should be "Motorway Permanent" (thank you to the eagle-eyed A42_Sparks for spotting that one). Fifthly, the "end of motorway" sign westbound has been placed at the 100 yard countdown marker before the Randalstown West offslip. Again this is very odd, since it would be more usual to place that sign at the top of the sliproad where it joins the all-purpose roundabout. Again, it might be to do with legal specifics so we shall have to wait and see if it stays in this unusual location.

Anyway, time for some photos. The first two are aerial shots of Randalstown West. The last three are taken from a DFI tweet, so if you want to see higher-resolution versions, click here. Also, the contractor has updated their web site with more specific traffic info and some more photos. Check it out! All eyes are now on Toome to Castledawson – lots still to be done.

View of the future "Randalstown West" junction where the M22 (to the bottom) meets the new dual-carriageway (top) a few days before the switchover, when all traffic was still being directed along Moneynick Road (upper right). [Graham Farrans image from here]

The same location seen on opening day, with the tie-in works completed and all traffic allowed to continue straight onto the new A6 (top) from the M22 (bottom left). Moneynick Road is now be accessed via the big loop to the right. Eastbound access is currently closed as the two sliproads are completed. [Graham Farrans; a still from this YouTube movie]

View east from Gallagh Road bridge of the completed dual-carriageway, along with a swanky new Type A layby on the right! One of the many concrete accommodation lanes that have been built is visible on the left. The embankments of the new road are covered with literally thousands of saplings – in ten years this scene is going to look very different. [DFI image from here]

View west from above Ballynafey Road overbridge, plus the realigned Ranaghan Road on the left. [DFI image from here]

View west of an extremely elegant accommodation overbridge near Derryhollagh. The slender bridge deck and interesting taper on the left give this bridge a very gentle persona - well done to whoever designed it. [DFI image from here]

23 Jul 2019: All eyes are now on the Randalstown to Toome stretch of this scheme (the other half being Toome to Castledawson) which is due to open to traffic within the next few weeks. Work on that stretch is currently focused on the final touches of laying blacktop and painting lines. Ahead of opening there are to be two public events this Friday, 26 July, where the public will be allowed to walk/run/cycle on the new dual-carriageway! Alas I can't make it due to work, but you can just turn up at the Park-and-Ride at Drumderg Roundabout (eastern end of the Toome Bypass). The 5 km Fun Run/Walk will commence at 4pm, while the 10 km time trial cycling event will start at 4.30pm. Proceeds will go to Moneynick and Duneane Primary Schools, with a suggested minimum donation of £5.

In other news, the digital aerial movies on the contractor's YouTube are still the best way to keep track of the project. This one shows the Castledawson to Toome stretch as it was last week. At the start of the video, the future eastbound carriageway is really taking shape (all traffic is using the future westbound carriageway, which is already complete). You can also see a nice, shiny new concrete agricultural access road on the right. At about 0:38 we cross Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road flyover junction where the sliproads are taking shape, though more advanced on the south (right hand) side. At 0:56 we pass over the new footbridge at Brough Road, which is the point at which the new road swings left onto an offline route. We pass the Hillhead Road flyover junction at 1:10, where foundations for the bridge appear to be in place. After this, we can see earthworks underway on the stretch approaching the (entirely unnecessary - opinion!) Deerpark Road flyover junction which we pass at 1:40. The approach embankments to this flyover look almost completed. The road then goes onto a long, flat stretch close to Lough Beg. Work here seems to be finally underway in earnest, with what looks like geotextile matting being laid 1:48 as a foundation for the road. Two farm accommodation bridges are also underway (1:57 and 2:10), and the huge borrow pit that was dug here seems to be being filled in again (1:57; being filled with low-quality material from elsewhere on the site). The embankments for The Creagh flyover junction are completed with the bridge foundations going in, at 2:18. Finally, work on the new local road to carry Hillhead Road, Toome parallel to the new dual-carriageway is evident at 2:30 (the right-turn into Toome village will be closed up). The most recent movie of the Toome to Randalstown stretch is three weeks old, but here it is. See also the photos below.

Last month I got scolded by the contractor ;-) for speculating that the road would open on 22 July. Not having learned my lesson, I am going to do it again! The "tie-in" works referred to at that time have been moved to the weekend of Friday 2 August – Monday 5 August 2019, when the A6 will be fully closed "to facilitate tie-in works with the existing road network". To me this, does sound like the work to divert traffic onto the new dual-carriageway - perhaps with just one lane each way initially. I may be wrong, and neither DFI nor the contractor are (probably wisely) not being drawn on the matter, but that's my best forecast! EDIT 26 July – DFI today confirmed that they intend to open the Randalstown to Toome stretch on Monday 5 August.

Finally, the contractor Graham Farrans sent me some lovely photos of the Toome to Randalstown stretch four weeks ago which I never got a chance to put up at the time, but I am happy to share now. Thank you to them.

The eastern end of the scheme, this was the view from the end of the M22 towards the new road on 18 June 2019, with the existing A6 Moneynick Road heading off to the right. As you can see, it won't take much more to et traffic onto this. [Graham Farrans].

Blacktop being laid using a Northstone roller near Ballynafey Road bridge on 18 Jun 2019. If you are a civil engineering fan, this will be a very satisfying image to look at! [Graham Farrans].

Blacktop being laid on the new A6, as seen from Ballynafey Road overbridge on 18 Jun 2019. There are two drainage channels - one on the left, and one in the central reservation, reflecting the camber of the road on this gentle curve. Note how the leftmost drain switches to the right side as the curve changes direction ahead. [Graham Farrans].

View of the largely-completed and enlarged Drumderg Roundabout in Toome on 18 Jun 2019, with the existing Toome Bypass behind the camera to the right, and the new A6 dual-carriageway on the left ahead. [Graham Farrans].

26 Jun 2019: A quick update this time for two reasons. Firstly, to share some wonderful 360° drone photos taken of the scheme by the amazing John Toner a couple of weeks ago. He has put the images here and created a map here that shows their locations (note the map link doesn't work on mobile devices). Clicking on these will bring up a link to the 360° panoramas where you can hover over the new road and have a grandstand view. Thank you to John! Secondly, in my previous update below I speculated that the new stretch of dual-carriageway from Randalstown to Toome might be going to open on 22 July. The contractor has got in touch with me to say that, alas, that is not the case! However, I do think that the opening will probably take place sometime in late July or early August. No date has yet been announced so we shall have to wait and see.

13 Jun 2019: The scheme continues to progress. This week there have been a series of overnight closures on the west end of the Toome Bypass to facilitate the relocation of water pipes. The north end of Bellshill Road is also due to (finally) reopen next week, coinciding with the permanent closure of the north end of Annaghmore Road and the opening of the new Bellshill Northern Link Road which connects the two together. The layout around here was one of the biggest sticking points at the three (!) public inquiries, so it's good to see it finally built. Of more significance is the weekend closure of the main A6 between Randalstown and Toome from 10pm Friday 19 July - 6am Monday 22 July 2019. This is apparently to "facilitate tie-in works with the existing road network". To me this sounds suspiciously like the plan is to open the new stretch of dual-carriageway from Randalstown to Toome on 22 July. The timing fits with the progress on the ground, the use of the term 'tie-in works' fits, and the fact that during the following weeks the temporary roundabouts are to be removed from the Moneynick Road also makes sense. This is not official information, so I could be wrong, but it looks that way to me. Time will tell!

20 May 2019: The contractor is doing a good job keeping their site updated so rather than try to list everything that has happened recently I am going to highlight some key events and share some photographs. Lots of people seem to be very interested in this scheme, judging by the number of emails and photos I get sent - I appreciate them all, thank you, even if I can't share them all here! Firstly, on the offline stretch from Randalstown to Toome work is really now counting down towards the opening scheduled for the late summer (August?). Tarmac has already been laid along much of the stretch and more is going down every day. Work still to be done includes the addition of the central safety barrier and, where appropriate, side safety barriers. See below for some photos taken at the Ballynafey Road overbridge. The best way to get an overall view is to look at this computer-generated aerial movie from a week ago. Thousands of trees have been planted along the route, which will transform the road over the next decade. Secondly the offline stretch from Toome to Castledawson is less advanced but still progressing well. This movie begins near Hillhead Road, Castledawson and goes east passing over the new Deerpark Road bridge at 0:21. On the stretch near Lough Beg an agricultural overbridge is taking shape at 0:40, as well as a large borrow pit visible to the right, which will probably be filled in again at a later date. From here the video shows the embankment for the new road that has been left to settle for some months now, but work on a second agricultural overbridge appears to be underway at 0:54 before the video reaches the Creagh junction at 1:03 where work on this flyover is now clearly underway too. It is just under two years until this stretch is due to open, in early 2021. Finally, on the online stretch along the Castledawson Bypass work on the future westbound carriageway is complete with work on the eastbound carriageway now progressing well. The most recent video of this stretch is now three weeks old. A new footbridge at Brough Road is now in place and last weekend two new footbridges were craned into place over Castledawson Roundabout. I include a number of photographs below.

Pic 1: The completed (and open) Ballynafey Road bridge over the new A6 seen on 15 May 2019. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 2: Telephoto view west along the new A6 from Ballynafey Road bridge on 15 May 2019, showing tarmac being laid.The concrete channels are for drainage, used instead of metal grilles in the road surface. Some safety barrier is also visible, in this case protecting drops into culverts. [Wesley Johnston]

Pic 3: View east from Ballynafey Road bridge on 7 April 2019. Note the thousands of new trees that have been planted on the embankments. In ten years this will be like driving through an avenue of trees. [Chris Carter]

Pic 4: Deerpark Road flyover continues to make progress as seen on 4 April 2019. [Arthur Ming]

Pic 5: Aerial view of Castledawson Roundabout on 19 May 2019 after the two new footbridges had been installed. The new A6 is to the bottom right. [DFI image from Twitter]

Pic 6: Artists' impression of how the Castledawson roundabout will look after the new footbridges have been completed and landscaped. A piece of art will be installed as a centrepiece.

24 Mar 2019: Another update, this time firstly to draw attention to two aerial movies which between them show the entire stretch between Castledawson and Toome, including parts that haven't been seen in aerial movies in a while. This is the most challenging part of the scheme as it runs through some very boggy ground with several overbridges required. The first movie begins at Castledawson Roundabout where you can see progress on the two new footbridges that are being built here. With all traffic now using the future westbound carriageway, the old A6 has been excavated and the foundations of the future eastbound carriageway are taking shape. You can see interesting features including a layby and an agricultural accommodation laneway at 0:21. Bellshill Road flyover, well advanced but not yet open, is seen at 0:45. Jumping then to the second movie at the Moyola River Bridge we continue to the rather convoluted temporary road network where the future dual-carriageway diverges from the existing A6 at 0:20. We reach the future Hillhead Road junction at 0:45. The embankments are completed, and are probably now being left to settle for a few months before work begins on the bridge. Between here and the Deerpark Road junction at 1:30 is one of the least-developed stretches, where progress is largely limited to topsoil removal. This may well be one of the last sections to be built. Deerpark Road junction itself is progressing well with the bridge in place, but no sight as yet of the embankments on either side. The next stretch, from 1:40 to is the environmentally-limited section that runs close to Lough Beg. The whooper swan overwintering period is finally over so work has now resumed on this stretch, which includes topsoil stripping, a culvert at 1:50 and an accommodation overbridge at 2:10. The stretch from here to The Creagh junction appears to have been built up with an embankment. I'm not sure whether this is the actual road embankment, or whether it's a surcharge designed to compact and settle the ground below. The video reaches The Creagh junction at 2:40. This is similar to Hillhead Road junction, in that the embankments are completed, and are probably being left to settle. The future road re-joins the A6 near Toome at 3:00. The current right-turn into Toome on the Belfast-bound carriageway is being closed as part of the project, and the Hillhead Road is being diverted onto a new local road that you can see being built to the right of the main road at 3:10. A very interesting video.

Secondly, the contractor has put up a new update on their web site here which contains more details. I am not going to repet everything from there on this site, but it contains pictures and a movie of the Deerpark Road beam lift as well as ground-level photos of the offline section between Randalstown and Toome which is now due to open in "mid/late summer 2019". If the borrow pits are your thing – and let's face it, they're fascinating wee blighters! – there's also details of what's happening to those. There are some excellent photos in this update, so please pop over and have a look. We are now almost at the half way point of this four-year with scheme with almost two years under the belt and two more to go until the whole road is open to traffic.

6 Mar 2019: We are now on the countdown to the opening of the first part of this scheme, namely the offline stretch from the end of the M22 at Randalstown to Toome which is currently scheduled to open during the second half of July, ie just over four months from now. Exciting times! Work on the Randalstown West junction – where the M22 will join the new dual-carriageway – is progressing well, as can be seen in this aerial movie taken on Monday. Meanwhile, Arthur Ming has shared more photos of the Deerpark Road junction with its beams now in place, two of which I reproduce below - thank you Arthur. Work is now getting underway on the approach embankments for this bridge, as can be seen in this aerial movie, also taken on Monday.

Deerpark Road bridge sporting its ten brand new beams on 23 Feb 2019. [Arthur Ming]

Closeup of the central pillars of the Deerpark Road flyover, with five beams resting on it from the left, and five from the right. The structure bolted to the nearest beam is to faciliate construction workers and will eventually be removed. 23 Feb 2019. [Arthur Ming]

10 Feb 2019: A quick update to share two photos that were taken on 7 February by Arthur Ming, showing the work at Deerpark Road (on the offline stretch between Castledawson and Toome). Both views are looking west from the current Deerpark Road towards the two bridge abutments and one set of central pillars that will eventually carry the realigned Deerpark Road over the future dual-carriageway. The beams for this bridge are due to be lifted into place on 16/17 February, after which the bridge deck will be built. After that, presumably, work will take place to divert Deerpark Road over it to allow completion of the new road below. Thanks Arthur!

View west from Deerpark Road on 7 February 2019 showing work on the flyover that will eventually carry Deerpark Road over the new dual-carriageway. This is the same view before work began. [Arthur Ming]

Closeup of the northern bridge abutment at Deerpark Road taking shape. The beams are due to be lifted into place here on 16/17 February. [Arthur Ming]

6 Feb 2019: The contractor has put up a new video, dated yesterday, of the stretch from Toome to Randalstown, visible on YouTube. It shows this stretch very advanced, with tarmac in place now on long stretches, including much of the eastbound carriageway and now sizeable stretches of the westbound carriageway too. Most of the drainage also seems to be in place too, and hundreds of saplings appear to have been planted along embankments on the stretch too. Parts of the site are already starting to green over. Towards the end of the video you can see that the borrow pit at the Randalstown West junction is now being filled in. The borrow pit was used to extract high quality rock for construction, and is now being replaced with low quality earth. The aim is to achieve a cut/fill balance, minimising the amount of material that has to be disposed of off-site. We are anticipating the opening of this section by the summer. The contractor has also updated their own web site. I won't repeat everything here, but highlights include the beam lift at Deerpark Road (between Toome and Randalstown), now scheduled for the weeked of 16/17 February. You can see the three sets of supports in place in this video. Drumderg Roundabout is also to be realigned (for the umpteenth time) this coming weekend. Bellshill Road south of the new dual-carriageway is currently closed, and will remain so until late March. This will be followed by a full closure of Bellshill Road north of the new road from 25 February until early May. This is to allow the contractor to reconnect the local roads to the new grade-separated junction that's being built here.

16 Jan 2019: Work is now underway once again after the Christmas break, and there have been more developments. As per usual, this information is partly sourced from the contractor's own web site and partly from YouTube videos which I shall link to. Starting at the western end, Castledawson roundabout is currently down to one lane to faciliate the construction of two footbridges that will allow easier pedestrian access over this busy junction. On the Castledawson Bypass, all traffic has been using the future westbound carriageway for about six weeks and stretches of the old A6 have now been excavated for reconstruction, as seen in this YouTube video posted last week. The video shows lots of earthworks especially around Hillhead Road (visible at 1:10). Just prior to Hillhead Road (visible at 1:02) you can see how the existing A6 has been moved onto the route of the future dual-carriageway which curves off to the north (left) at this location. In Castledawson itself, the new link road that connects Annaghmore and Bellshill Roads is well advanced and traffic is due to be diverted onto it in late February. The video ends at the site of the future Deerpark Road junction (1:40) where the bridge beams are due to be lifted into place on 9/10 February. At Toome, the contractor intends to carry out "realignment" at Drumderg Roundabout on the weekend of 25-28 January. This *might* mean switching A6 traffic onto the new S-shaped section of road that will link the current A6 to the roundabout after the dual-carriageway opens. You can see the section of road I mean in this YouTube video (on the left at 00:02). It might also mean altering the layout of Drumderg roundabout. This video extends along the full length of the offline stretch to Randalstown. You can see that tarmac has now been laid on the future eastbound carriageway on about 75% of the route. The Toome-Randalstown stretch is due to open to traffic in "mid 2019" so not long to wait now. It will probably open with one lane each way initially, and then open fully in due course. The video ends at the new junction at Randalstown (at 2:57) where you can see the road that loops over the bridge to connect to the westbound carriageway taking shape.

3 Dec 2018: A major milestone was reached today with traffic using part of the new A6 for the first time this morning. Traffic travelling on the Castledawson Bypass for the 2.2km between the Moyola river bridge and Castledawson roundabout were switched onto the future westbound carriageway - as tweeted by DFI's permanent secretary earlier - and Bellshill Road was also reopened. Work will now begin on building the eastbound carriageway on the site of the old road (I say "old", but it was actually itself only opened in 1992!). Well done to the contractor for reaching this point. The contractor has put up an update with photos on their web site here - what follows is a few key points pulled out of that. Closer to Toome, work on the Deerpark Road grade-separated junction continues to progress with piling, bases and column works now complete. Work is currently focused on the bridge abutments are the beams are due to be lifted into place during January. Work is now also underway for the new pair of footbridges that are being added to Castledawson Roundabout. All of the above can be seen in this aerial movie, posted last week before the carriageway switchover, starting at Castledawson Roundabout and moving east along the Castledawson Bypass. Meanwhile, on the offline stretch between Toome and Randalstown work progresses steadily. The deck is due to be poured on what the contractor is calling "Pearsons Accommodation Bridge", though I'm not aware of any maps in the public domain that would allow us to identify where that bridge actually is, since Pearson is probably the name of the landowner. Two aerial movies of this stretch of the scheme were put online a week ago. This one shows the western 2km, starting at Toome and working east with the road foundation largely in place and drainage works evident. Towards the end you can see a future layby on the westbound carriagewway. This movie shows the easternmost 1.3 km of the same stretch, ending at the M22 at Randalstown. At the end of the movie you can see the "loop" that will allow westbound access to and from the new road taking shape.

11 Nov 2018: The dark evenings have really set in now, but work continues on this scheme which has now been underway for 18 months with just over two years to go until completion. Taking the scheme in three sections: At the western end of the scheme, work on the upgraded Castledawson Bypass (from the Castledawson roundabout to Hillhead Road) is very advanced, with the future westbound carriageway close to completion. All traffic will be switched from the current A6 to this new carriageway on the weekend of 30 November, so that the current road can be reconstructed to become the future eastbound carriageway. Progress is best seen via this computer-generated flythrough dating from four days ago which begins at Castledawson roundabout and works its way east. There is only one grade-separated junction on the Castledawson Bypass - at Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road (at 0:38 in the video) and Bellshill Road is currently closed to facilitate its realignment to the the new link road that is being built as part of the junction. On the offline stretch between Hillhead Road and Toome progress varies. The first stretch, from Hillhead Road to to Deerpark Road, starts at 0:56 in the video and you can see that earthworks are underway on both grade-separated junctions, but not much work evident on the stretch between them. The next stretch, past Lough Beg and on to The Creagh (not shown in the video) has seen relatively little progress and in any case work here has been paused until the spring due to environmental restrictions. The final stretch, the long offline section from Toome to Randalstown, is looking very advanced indeed with both carriageways constructed and tarmac being laid on a long stretch in the middle of the section. This computer-generated flythrough shows progress at the Castledawson end two weeks ago, while this video shows progress at the Randalstown end. The pictures below were taken from Ballynafey Road bridge by Chris Carter about three weeks ago (apologies to Chris that I have only shared it today). It illustrates how well advanced this section was in late October. We are now only 8 or 9 months away from the opening of the Toome to Randalstown stretch (next summer) so that will be a very exciting time for travellers!

View east (towards Randalstown) along the future A6 dual-carriageway from the Ballynafey Road overbridge on 18 October 2018. [Chris Carter]

Same location as previous photograph, but looking west (towards Toome) showing work underway. The HGV on the extreme right is on the current road, the A6 Moneynick Road. 18 October 2018. [Chris Carter]

6 Oct 2018: The project continues to advance, with the opening of the new park-and-ride at Drumderg roundabout in Toome, and the accompanying footbridge, on 24 September as anticipated. The contractor has lost no time in ripping out the old park-and-ride, the site of which is needed for the enlarged roundabout. The enormous cutting at the end of the M22 is now essentially complete, so motorists can now see along the route that the future dual-carriageway will take from Randalstown (see photo 1 below). Progress on this stretch, which is almost entirely offline, can be seen in this computer-generated flythrough of the 1500 metres at the eastern end of the project. On the other side of Toome the offline stretch that passes close to Lough Beg, via Deerpark Road, is also advancing with substantial earthworks completed and the approach embankments for the Creagh junction and flyover now in place, as seen in this video. The same is the case further west where the new road rejoins the existing A6 near Castledawson, with the embankments for the Hillhead Road junction - though not the bridge structure - also in place. The Castledawson Bypass itself is the only stretch where the road is an online upgrade, and here work on the future westbound carriageway has advanced to the point that the final surface is being laid on the western part (photo 2 below). An aerial video of the Castledawson Bypass can be seen here, showing the progress on the future westbound carriageway. It will not be too long before traffic is transferred onto the new carriageway to allow the construction of the future eastbound carriageway. We are now less than a year away from the planned opening of the Randalstown to Toome stretch, though the more challenging Toome to Castledawson stretch is still about two and a half years away.

View east from M22 towards large
                          excavation in bank.

Photo 1: View west along the route of the future dual-carriageway from the end of the M22 at Randalstown on 27 Sep 2018. The current Moneynick Road is seen curving to the right. Until a few months ago there was a huge hill just ahead which has now been cut away (same view before work began) [Wesley Johnston].

Tarmac on future westbound carriageway

Photo 2: Tarmac in place on the future westbound carriageway of the A6 Castledawson Bypass on 27 Sep 2018. All traffic is likely to be soon switched onto it to allow work on the eastbound carriageway. [Wesley Johnston]

12 Aug 2018: The project progressed well during July. You can read the contractor’s latest update on their web site here. As before, I’m not going to repeat everything here so I encourage you to click that link to get a feel for what’s been happening and what will be happening in the coming weeks. The two most notable dates are the opening of the new link road at Randalstown West (end of the M22) which connects the dual-carriageway to the new flyover. It is due to open on 3 September. The relocated park-and-ride facility at Drumderg Roundabout in Toome is then due to open in “mid” September. One of the most obvious recent changes has been that the bank at the end of the M22 at Randalstown has finally been cut through, so drivers can now see right along the route of the future dual-carriageway as they join the existing Moneynick Road.

The amazing John Toner took a series of 360° panoramas at various sites along the new road on 25 July. (Although he sent them to me the following day I was busy attending the birth of NIRoads Junior #3 at the time and hence am only updating the site today!) He then took more at the end of the month. You can see them all by clicking this link. John has also created an interactive map that shows the location of each 3D panorama, available here. Thank you John - these pictures are amazing and give a real flavour for how things are progressing.

21 Jul 2018: A number of things to report. Firstly, construction on the scheme has now passed its first anniversary, which means that the eastern half (Randalstown to Toome is now over 50% complete) and we are now only a year from opening in "mid 2019". To celebrate, the contractor has put up an excellent first anniversary page that contains a summary of work to date, videos and an audio clip. There is no point in me trying to repeat it all here, so I suggest you pop over to the page and have a read! In terms of visible works, the beams for another bridge were craned into place last week - this was an accommodation bridge (a bridge that preserves access to private property) at "Dobbin's lane". The bridge consists of two spans (one per carriageway), each of which consists of two 66 tonne precast beams 29 metres long. Three of the photos below are of this lift, taken from a DFI tweet. In addition, the first overbridge to be opened to the public came into use on Monday 16 July - this was the Ballynafey Road bridge, which carries a local road over the new dual-carriageway between Randalstown and Toome. The scheme continues to make use of six huge "borrow pits", five of which are in use and the sixth (near Deerpark Road between Castledawson and Toome) is to come into operation by the end of the month. The contractor tries to keep a cut-fill balance, ie material excavated from one part of the site is used on other parts of the site so that very little material has to be disposed of off site. However the issue is that the material is not all of the same quality, ie not all of it is suitable for use in construction. Borrow pits allow good quality material to be excavated for the fills, and then poorer quality material from cuttings is put back into the borrow pits. When the scheme is completed the topsoil is restored and it looks as if the pit was never there (hence "borrow" pit). The last picture below was sent by a site visitor who prefers to remain anonymous - thank you - and shows the borrow pit near Bellshill Road. It's hard to get a sense of scale, but the pit looks to be around 30 metres deep, and that is a mature tree above. The contractor will certainly have benefitted from the fanstastic weather over the past two months. Major earthworks on part of the stretch between Toome and Deerpark Road will have to pause come October due to the presence of overwintering swans, but the contractor appears to have made good progress on this stretch. A reminder that the contractor puts up regular aerial videos here. If they seem obsessed with borrow pits it's because the videos (sadly!) aren't there for the benefit of infrastructure enthusiasts, but to allow the engineers to monitor the movement of material around the site.

Crane lifting a beam into place.
Crane lifts one of four beams into place for the "Dobbin's lane" accommodation overbridge c20 July 2018. [DFI image from here]

Dobbins lane bridge seen from the far
                          side with crane lifting.
Crane lifts one of four beams into place for the "Dobbin's lane" accommodation overbridge c20 July 2018. [DFI image from here]

Dobbins lane bridge from afar
View along the new A6 between Randalstown and Toome showing the carriageway foundation in place. The metal poles with yellow dots on top that run along the central reservation are used by computerised systems in the vehicles to check the level of the layers of material that are being laid to form the road surface. [DFI image from here]

The huge borrow pit at Bellshill Road seen in early July 2018. [Anonymous site contributor]

24 Jun 2018: The contractor (Graham & Farrans) and the Institution of Civil Engineers jointly held an open day on the site yesterday. Visitors were treated to a presentation about the scheme, a demo of a 3D VR headset that civil engineers use, and then a hard-hat visit to the Bellshill Road flyover construction site on the Castledawson Bypass. So thank you very much to them. I've included some shots below. The scheme is progressing on schedule. The eastern part of the scheme (Randalstown to Toome) should open to traffic just over a year from now, in "late summer 2019". On the Castledawson Bypass, which is being widened, the westbound carriageway is under construction and it's likely that all traffic will be switched onto it later in the summer to allow the current road to be reconstructed to form the new eastbound carriageway. Opening of the western part of the scheme (Toome to Castledawson), which has more challenges (softer land, more environmental restrictions, being partly online) will come either at the end of 2020 or the start of 2021. You can see a computer-generated aerial movie of the stretch as it was last week. The contractor is putting these movies up every couple of weeks, which is great, though they are mainly done to allow them to track the movement of fill material around the site.

View along the earth embankment about 2m
                          above ground level
Pic 1: Future westbound carriageway of the A6 approaching Bellshill Road on 24 June 2018. The ground here was dug down to 2 metres below the adjacent ground level and then filled up to about 2 metres above that level. The gravel on the right is the subsurface of the future road. [Wesley Johnston].

Semi-circular earthen mound curving up to
                          the left.
Pic 2: Earth embankment that will carry the east-facing sliproads from the Bellshill Road flyover onto the A6 on 24 June 2018. The current A6 Castledawson Bypass is just ahead. The photographer is standing on what will be the central reservation. [Wesley Johnston].

Engineers walking towards Bellshill Road
Pic 3: Members of the public at the ICE open day walking towards Bellshill Road flyover on their gudied tour on 24 June 2018, on what will be the future westbound carriageway. [Wesley Johnston].

Underside of Bellshill Road showing 4
                          beams and 4 central columns
Pic 4: Underneath of the Bellshill Road flyover on 24 June 2018. The bridge consists of two abutments, four central columns (shown here) and eight beams. Once the beams are put in place plastic formwork sheets are inserted between them (visible here) and the concrete deck poured on top. The road is then constructed directly on the deck. [Wesley Johnston].

Parapet of Bellshill Road bridge with
                          moulding removed
Pic 5: Newly completed parapet on Bellshill Road bridge on 24 June 2018. The red "formwork" that can be seen on the left previously ran right across the bridge and was used to case the concrete. Now that the parapet has been completed, the formwork can be removed. The bridge is not yet open as the approach embankments are still under construciton. [Wesley Johnston].

Crane beside Moyola Bridge with beams and
                          deck in place
Pic 6: View east towards te Moyola Road bridge on 24 June 2018. The section ahead will carry the future westbound carriagway. Due to increased environmental standards, this bridge gives over a metre greater clearance over the river than the 1990 bridge to the left of it. [Wesley Johnston].

13 May 2018: Construction of this scheme has just passed its first anniversary, and there is now just a year or so to go until the stretch from Randalstown to Toome opens to traffic (officially due to open "during 2019"). There will be few travellers who will miss the Moneynick Road that it will replace! Work on this stretch continues to advance well, and this is best seen via this computer-generated aerial movie of the stretch as it was last week. The movie begins at the Drumderg roundabout at Toome, and you can see the new footbridge now in place at 00:06, as well as the new park-and-ride facility underway. The existing park-and-ride car park, on the opposite side of the roundabout, will be removed to make way for the enlarged roundabout and connection to the new dual-carriageway. (I will resist the temptation to discuss yet again what a shame it is that this roundabout is to remain!) The flight then goes along the offline route of the new dual-carriageway showing (for example) the new Ballynafey Road overbridge with beams in place at 1:27, box culverts at 1:39 and 1:46, a significant cutting at 1:52, foundations for an agrticultural accommodation overbridge going in at 2:10, gravel foundations being put in place between 2:20 and 2:35, the new Derrygowan Road overbridge in place (minus its approach ramps) at 2:35, the cutting to approach the existing M22 (which has still not been cut through the final stretch) at 3:07, and finally the Randalstown West bridge in place at 3:12. Work is also underway on the Castledawson to Toome stretch. This is best seen in the first two photographs below (kindly sent by Damien Devlin of Jupe a couple of weeks ago but which I have only just got a chance to put up) and also in this computer-generated aerial movie of the stretch as it was on Friday. The notes on the video advise that due to windy conditions some sections are missing. The video begins at Castledawson Roundabout, which has had trees felled to make way for a planned new footbridge structure. Continuing along the existing Castledawson Bypass you can see that the embankment for the widened road is almost complete with gravel foundations in place on a long stretch. The new Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road flyover is visible at 0:37. This bridge also requires construction of a new local road which, if you are interested, is covered separately in this movie. Bellshill Road flyover has now had its deck completed and the temporary formwork was removed yesterday. The widened bridge over the Moyola river is visible at 0:48, with its deck under construction. The visuals reappear at 01:00, which is the point at which the stretch where work was paused during a legal challenge begins. Significant process can be seen since work began in March, including a new temporary road to carry Hillhead Road traffic around the construction site of a future overbridge at 1:19. No earthworks appear to have yet begun between here and Deerpark Road, visible at 1:56, but after this major earthworks now appear to be underway along the stretch that runs parallel to Lough Beg. At 2:35 the view reaches the site of the future Creagh grade-separated junction, with the loop for the eastbound sliproads visible on the left but no sign yet of the future flyover. This junction will be linked by a short stretch of new road to the existing Creagh roundabout. Finally, at 2:46, the view reaches the existing Toome Bypass where the stretch terminates. The photographs below show some of the same things but higher-resolution. My thanks to Shay Sweetnam and Damien Devlin of Jupe for sending me these images to share. Excellent work by all involved in the scheme. A reminder once again that the contractor is maintaining a very useful web site that gives advance notice of the dates of planned closures as well as  progress notes and photographs of their own.

View east along the A6 Castledawson Bypass on 29 April 2018 showing the foundation for the future westbound carriageway now in place, with all traffic using the existing road which will be reconstructed later to become the eastbound carriageway [Damien Devlin].

View, looking north-east, of the new Bellshill Road grade-separated junction with bridge deck and approach embankments both in place. The route of the future eastbound sliproads is easily discerned in the shape of the curved embankment above the bridge. [Damien Devlin]

View of Drumderg roundabout, Toome, on 29 April 2018 looking south-east, showing the footbridge now in place over the start of the existing Toome Bypass (though minus its ramps and steps), the new park-and-ride on the left, the route of the future dual-carriageway to Randalstown at the top of the shot, and the route of the realigned Moneynick Road (which will revert to being a local road) taking shape above the new car park. The existing Drumderg roundabout has shrunk to the size of a postage stamp, but it will return in more glory than ever, expanding beyond its original size to cover most of the existing park-and-ride facility seen just above the current roundabout. [Damien Devlin]

Ground-level shot of the new Drumderg footbridge in place on 28 April 2018, taken from the existing park-and-ride facility. [Shay Sweetnam]

21 Apr 2018: From the point of view of the travelling public, considerable change has been evident in the past two weeks. Firstly, the bridge beams for the Randalstown West grade-separated junction (Artresnahan, at the end of the M22 motorway) were lifted into place during a weekend closure on 13-15 April. The bridge consists of two spans, the central pillars of which occupy what was the westbound carriageway of the M22, hence why the M22 reduces to one lane each way further back. Each span consists of five 30 metre beams, each weighing 60 tonnes, meaning a total of ten beams were lifted over the weekend. The pictures below were taken from a DFI tweet and show the beams in place. Great work by the contractor. A further 15 bridge beams for the widened bridge over the Moyola River near Castledawson were also lifted into place over the past week. Tomorrow (Sunday) will see the installation of the deck of the new footbridge over the Toome Bypass at Drumderg roundabout, which is to provide pedestrian access to the relocated park-and-ride site. The concrete bridge pillars are already in situ, but the deck itself is a steel arch structure which is already on site, ready to be placed atop the pillars. The pictures below of this bridge are taken from another DFI tweet. The other obvious change for the public is the creation of a new roundabout at Derryhollagh Road between Toome and Randalstown. This may be a nuisance, but is required to facilitate the safe access to the side road for construction vehicles on this very busy, bendy road. The roundabout will be removed at a later date. Finally, a reminder that you can get up-to-date information on the works at the contractor's own web site.

Pic 1: View of the Randalstown West overbridge a few weeks ago showing the pillars under construction in what was the westbound carriageway of the M22. View is looking east. [DFI from here]

Pic 2: Similar view to picture 1 on 16 April 2018, showing the ten bridge beams in place at Randalstown West, along with associated falsework on either side to facilitate construction workers. [DFI from here]

Pic 3: A heavy-duty crane finishing up at Randaltown West on 16 April 2018. In total the ten bridge beams that have been installed weigh 600 tonnes and will have taken the same number of specialist lorries to bring them to the site. [DFI from here]

Pic 4: View looking south across the Randalstown West overbridge with the bridge beams in place. The concrete walls closest to the camera are the wing walls of the bridge abutment, with the black material being a waterproofing layer on the section that will be below ground level when the bridge is completed. The people give the scale of this impressive structure. [DFI from here]

Pic 5: One of the spans of the Drumderg footbridge sitting beside the A6 last week ready to be craned into position on 22 April. The man on the left is standing on the pillar for the main span, with the smaller cylindrical pillars being for the approach ramp. [DFI from here]

Pic 6: A smaller prefabricated bridge section waiting beside the pillar that will support it once it carries pedestrians over the A6 Toome Bypass, visible beyond. [DFI from here]

3 Apr 2018: The past fortnight has seen another milestone on the construction of this new road, and that is the commencement of work on the stretch from The Creagh to Hillhead Road. Work on this stretch had been delayed initially by an unsuccessful legal challenge, and then by the environmental requirement not to carry out major works in this area during the swan overwintering season. However this restriction ended in mid March and work has now commenced on the stretch - a milestone as it means that work is finally underway on all parts of the scheme. Matthew Cole took some photos of these earthworks advancing away from The Creagh four days ago and posted them here on Twitter. An aerial YouTube video of the same area uploaded on 29 March can be viewed here. Work has now been underway for ten months and progress continues to be excellent. About a fortnight ago the beams for the Ballynafey Road overbridge were craned into position. This is reported on the contractor's own web site, which is being regularly updated with lots of interesting information and photos and is well worth bookmarking. According to that web site, the bridge beams for the Randalstown West overbridge (at the end of the M22) are scheduled to be lifted into place between 13 and 16 April, requiring a weekend closure of the A6 here. Two other lifts planned in the near future are the beams for the widened bridge over the River Moyola (11-13 April) and the installation of the footbridge that is currently under construction at the start of the Toome Bypass at Drumderg roundabout.

13 Mar 2018: Last weekend saw a great deal of excitement on the scheme with a major beam lift taking place at Bellshill Road on the Castedawson Bypass. The flyover requires 8 reinforced concrete beams, 4 each on two spans, that will carry Bellshill Road over the new dual-carriageway. The beams are so large that they require a lorry each and they were seen parked up at the end of the M22 near Randalstown the week prior to the lift. The A6 at Castledawson was closed over the weekend and the beams were carried along the Moneynick Road via Toome (spotted by one eagle-eyed infrastructure fan) on Friday night. The lift itself seems to have had perfect weather and all eight beams were firmly in place by the time the road reopened. Several more infrastructure fans photographed the lift and the outcome. The pictures below are DFI photos and show the result. For safety and efficiency the four outermost beams had their falsework (temporary construction platforms) already bolted on prior to the lift. Thank you to all the people who tweeted updates and sent me photos - it is great to see how many people out there are interested in this project. Well done to the contractor.

Crane lifting one of the beams for Bellshill Road into place c10 Mar 2018. This beam has the temporary falsework already bolted on ready for construction of the deck above. [DFI photograph taken from this tweet]

View of the four beams making up one of the two spans of the Bellshill Road flyover following the beam lift, c10 Mar 2018. Work will now focus on completing the deck above. [DFI photograph taken from this tweet]

The job completed - eight beams successfully in place at Bellshill Road, c10 Mar 2018. The current A6 Castledawson Bypass is in the foreground, which is to be upgraded to full dual-carriageway with one carriageway passing under each span. [DFI photograph taken from this tweet]

20 Feb 2018: Work continues well on both halves of the scheme. On the entirely offline Randalstown to Toome stretch work has been focused on building culverts for the numerous watercourses on the stretch, and creating large cuttings and embankments to allow the road to traverse the hilly terrain. This computer-generated aerial video, put up by the contractor on 19 Feb, shows a typical 1.5 km stretch of the new road showing all these features. The road is designed to have a cut/fill balance, ie material cut from one place is used as fill elsewhere. However it often happens that the fill is needed before the cuts are done, or that the fill needs to be of a different type than the material sourced from the cuts. This problem is resolved by taking rock out of a "borrow pit", which is later filled in again with fill. Borrow pit "K", located close to Moneynick Primary School, has seen explosives used to blast out the rock. You can see a video of a blast (from last December) here with the blast happening at 00:17, and an aerial video of how borrow pit K looked this week here. Blasting in another borrow pit is close to the current A6 meaning the road has to be shut for 30 minutes during blasting. At the tie-in to the end of the M22 at Randalstown, construction of the future flyover is underway, with all traffic shifted over to one side to make space for the work. At the Toome end, work to enlarge the 14 year old Drumderg roundabout is also well underway. This aerial movie shows the current state of works with the curved road at the top left of the video (at the very start) being the new bit of road that will allow the existing Moneynick Road to be accessed once the dual-carriageway opens. A footbridge is also being built over the start of the existing Toome Bypass in order to provide access to the new park-and-ride facility which will be sited on the far side of the roundabout. On the partly online Toome to Castledawson stretch, intense work is taking place to widen the existing Castledawon Bypass (itself opened in 1992). This involves two major bridges - a flyover at Bellshill Road, and widening the bridge over the Moyola River. Because the route on this stretch is literally on top of the existing road, we are currently experiencing a series of unavoidable weekend closures that began on 26 January and will disrupt Belfast-Derry traffic until at least mid March. This aerial video begins at the Moyola Bridge and then heads east, and shows progress as of last week. You can see the proximity of the works to the existing road. At 00:15 in the video you can see the route of the new dual-carriageway heading offline to the left. This is the start of the offline stretch that passes near Lough Beg. Work on this stretch is currently paused due to overwintering swans, but is due to commence within the next couple of months. Work has now been underway on the project for 9 months. With thanks to David Chambers for a correction to the borrow pit identifications.

7 Jan 2018: December saw low temperatures and a lot of snow, but it didn't stop the contractors (Graham Farrans Joint Venture) who installed the first bridge beams on the scheme in the middle of the month. The beams were for an overbridge that will carry Derrygowan Road over the new dual-carriageway between Toome and Randalstown. The photos below were taken from the Department for Infrastructure's Twitter feed. They show how the bridge consists of two abutments, plus a set of central columns in what will be the central reservation, creating two spans. The precast concrete beams were put in place over the course of two days, five for each span. The scale of these beams is enormous - the first photo shows that they are so large and heavy that they require a lorry each! The contractor has put up an article on the lift on their new dedicated web site here. The new web site for the scheme can be accessed at www.a6rcdualling.co.uk which contains updates and photos and well worth checking out. It is also worth watching two movies on YouTube which are computer-enhanced flythroughs of the scheme as it looked in mid December. The first movie, here, starts at Castledawson Roundabout and travels 4km east to near Toome. Beyond this, in the vicinity of Toome, there is currently a moratorium on major earthworks taking place due to overwintering swans, but this will cease to be a restriction in March at which point earthworks can commence here too. The second movie begins at Drumderg roundabout east of Toome (note the new footbridge over the Toome Bypass being built at 00:04) and goes 7km east, all the way to Randalstown. Derrygowan Road bridge appears at 02:12, though the video was made before the beams were in place. At the end of the scheme, you can see the foundations of the bridge at the future grade separated junction at the end of the M22 at 02:48. Work has now been underway for seven months, with three years to go until completion of the whole project.

A single precast reinforced concrete beam arrives by lorry at Derrygowan Road in mid December 2017. [DFI from here]

After being unloaded, a 500 tonne crane lifts the beam ready to swing it over to its new home over the future dual-carriageway near Derrygowan Road in mid December 2017. [DFI from here]

Graham Farrans Joint Venture engineers place the beam in its place, in this case forming part of the northern bridge span. Derrygowan Road currently runs on the left, but will be rerouted over this bridge once it's finished, and the new A6 will run underneath. Taken in mid December 2017. [DFI from here]

The beam in place, forming the second of five beams that will make up the northern span of the Derrygowan Road overbridge. The five beams for the southern span are already in place ahead. Taken in mid December 2017. Note the cutting heading off into the right distance, which will be the route of the new dual-carriageway. [DFI from here]

30 Nov 2017: A very quick update to share another aerial movie which has been posted on YouTube by JUPE, showing progress on the Castledawson Bypass around a month ago (apologies for the delay in posting this). At time index 0:55 you an see a good top view of the new Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road grade separated junction with the foundations of the bridge piers now in place. On the rest of the scheme work seems to be progressing well, though delays on the westbound M22 at Randalstown due to the roadworks continue to cause considerable delays and consternation on social media.

14 Oct 2017: The scheme has now been underway for about 5 months, and there has been a lot of progress at some points. I have 6 photos to share this time, the first 3 of which are with thanks to the contractor Graham/Farrans and the second 3 of which are with thanks to John Toner, who took aerial photos from a drone. The first three pictures below were taken on the Randalstown-Toome stretch where work to date seems to be focused on major earthworks, in particular a very large excavation. I am not 100% sure whether this is a cutting or the road itself, or whether it is some kidn of 'borrow pit', but either way it looks to be at least 20 metres deep. The second set of images show works on the Castledawson Bypass at the western end of the scheme. This road only dates back to the mid 1990s but is being upgraded to dual-carriageway standard as part of the scheme. This includes a major junction with Bellshill Road which looks very advanced with most of the approach embankments now in place. Work appears to have begun on the foundations for the flyover at its centre. Work on the second bridge over the Moyola River (adjacent to the existing structure) is more advanced with work on the two abutments well underway. Working close to the River involves a lot of environmental constraints - for example, it appears that the contractor cannot operate machinery in the river itself, as would have happened in years gone by. Finally, a video has appeared on YouTube showing aerial views of a range of locations but showing the Castledawson Bypass around 3:00.

Heavy plant using a temporary access road on the A6 scheme between Randalstown and Castledawson c21 Sep 2017. This road has been made from rock covered with earth to allow machinery to access the various parts of the site. [Graham Farrans]

Excavation work underway between Randalstown and Castledawson in late September 2017. [Graham Farrans]

Very deep excavation underway about half way between Randalstown and Castledawson. This is either a deep cutting for the road, or a borrow pit (to get material to construct embankments elsewhere). c21 Sep 2017. [Graham Farrans]

Work underway on 1 Oct 2017 to build a second crossing of the River Moyola on the Castledawson Bypass near the western end of the scheme. As far as I am aware, the existing bridge will be re-used for the future eastbound carriageway. [John Toner]

Bellshill Road grade-separated junction on the Castledawson bypass taking shape on 1 Oct 2017, looking west. Both current T-junctions will be closed and replaced by a flyoer around the middle of this shot. On the left is a new embankment that will support a roundabout. The earth road at the bottom of the shot is a temporary access road. [John Toner]

The western terminus of the scheme at the Castledawson Roundabout, looking east on 1 Oct 2017. Two interesting things to see here - firstly the recently-completed A31 Magherafelt Bypass is heading off to the right. Secondly, note the very wide area of earth to the right of the A6 approaching the roundabout in the centre of this shot. This embankment is only a couple of hundred feet long, but dates back to the construction of Castledawson Roundabout in the early 1970s and was this wide because it was intended to be the terminus of the M22 motorway, which was never completed to its intended terminus here. Part of it was re-used for the A6 Castledawson Bypass in 1992, but the new dual-carriageway will cover the remainder. [John Toner]

19 Sep 2017: Today saw the ruling on the appeal by environmentalist Chris Murphy to the judicial review that he lost in March. He was challenging the legality of the DFI's environmental assessments on the section of the road between Toome and Castledawson (the legally contested stretch being specifically the stretch from the western end of the Toome Bypass to Deerpark Road). In the event the judges dismissed all of Mr Murphy's points and ruled that the DFI had correctly complied with relevant environmental legislation. The summary judgement is available on the Courts Service web site here. Notably the judges expressed the view that a delay of several years between a project being approved and work commencing (as was the case here and which Mr Murphy felt necessitated a further assessment) is not unreasonable: "The Habitats Directive imposes no time constraint on the duration of an appropriate assessment and in the case of major infrastructural projects there is often a likelihood of some time lag between authorization and implementation of the project”. DFI, for their part, immediately welcomed the ruling in their favour with a press release. Mr Murphy has the option of attempting to appeal to the Supreme Court and has indicated that this is an option he will consider.

In their press release DFI says "As a result of the judgement the Department will commence construction of the Toome to Moyola River section of the scheme which had been delayed due to the legal challenge". By way of background, DFI had previously agreed not to begin major works on the stretch from Toome to the Moyola River in Castledawson, so works undertaken to date have been restricted to the Randalstown to Toome stretch, and the bit west of the Moyola River. The map below illustrates the situation with the works already underway shown in dark blue. The ruling means that DFI are now free to begin work on the Toome to Moyola stretch. However, a complication is that the Environmental Statement imposes a restriction that major earthworks (note, not "all" works) cannot take place between Deerpark Road and Toome between late September and mid March. This is for environmental reasons and is not directly related to the legal challenge. I would define "major earthworks" to be anything that involves constructing the bed of the road itself, so I would consider embankments, cuttings or bridges to be "major earthworks". DFI have not said when they intend to start work, but having now successfully defended two legal challenges I would say they will be in no mood for further delay and so I would expect to see work begin on the Moyola River to Deerpark Road stretch within days. We are likely also to see minor works commencing on the contested Deerpark Road to Toome stretch in the coming weeks (eg vegetation clearance, fencing etc), but we will not see major earthworks until mid March due to the restrictions of the Environmental Statement. Again, the map below attemps to summarise this and help make sense of all these different stretches.

Status of the A6 dualling scheme as of 19 Sep 2017.
5 Sep 2017: Progress on the scheme seems to be going very well. This update by Farrans (one of the contractors) shows some closeup images of the work underway, including a deeper excavation - it's hard to tell from the image but this is either a cutting for the road itself, or else some kind of borrow pit for sourcing material. Either way good weather during the summer seems to have helped. Meanwhile, a court hearing took place on 15 August. This is an appeal by environmentalist Chris Murphy to the judicial review that he lost in March. He is challenging the section of the road between Toome and Castledawson. The judges reserved their judgement, which was then due to be given yesterday, but has apparently been delayed to sometime "later in the week". The substance of the appeal appears to be Mr Murphy's argument that the environmental assessments were out of date and did not take into account more recent considerations and environmental legislation. DFI Roads obviously defended their assessments vigorously. Originally the verdict was to have been given on the same day, so the decision to reserve judgement tells us that the verdict is not straightforward. This implies to me that Mr Murphy has at least got an arguable case. Regardless of the strong desire by many, especially in the North West, to have this road built, the judges will decide the case on the immediately relevant legal facts only. My (admittedly only superficially informed) impression of the case is that it could go either way. Both sides in the case do, of course, have options for further appeals (eg the Supreme Court or even the European Court) so whether DFI win or lose, this saga could be far from over. If, hypothetically, DFI were to lose then it would probably mean going back to square one in terms of route selection and environmental assessments which would add a period of years, rather than months, to the completion of the delayed section between Castledawson and Randalstown. Finally, the works have required a lane closure at the western end of the M22 which has caused significant tailbacks westbound in recent days. This is slightly puzzling as the road always went down from two lanes to one at the end of the M22, it is just the location that has changed. Perhaps someone in DFI Roads more familiar with the setup might be able to see if anything could be done to ease the merge as it is going to last several months.

10 Jul 2017: Another wonderful aerial movie of the scheme has been uploaded to YouTube by John Toner, taken around the 1st of July. It was taken on the Randalstown to Toome stretch, beginning at the terminus of the M22 near Randalstown and moving west towards Toome. The video description gives more details of what you are looking at, but it shows earthworks now underway at most locations and a site access road now built. Most of the work seems to be at the topsoil level, but there are signs of more substantial earthworks in a few places.

29 Jun 2017: Work has now been underway on this scheme for over a month, and already there is a lot of progress. Site yards have appeared and portable buildings painted in Graham (the contractor) colours can be seen both between Randalstown and Toome and on the Castledawson Bypass. I have two sets of photos which I haven't asked for premission to reproduce here and hence am going to link to them instead. The first two photos are on Facebook here and were taken by Aerial Vision NI. They show two views of the Randalstown to Toome stretch, taken from a spot about two miles west of the end of the M22. The top photo is the view east towards Randalstown, and the one below it is looking west towards Toome. In the top photo you can see the existing A6 on the left with site clearance and earthworks very evident. Much of the earthworks appear to be fairly close to existing ground level, but in the second picture you can see several excavators on an area of dark earth. They appear to be in a field that's not part of the scheme, so it may be a temporary area used to store fill from elsewhere. The second three photos were shared on Twitter here by Kevin Bateson a few days ago. They show work on the Castledawson Bypass, specifically the area on the western bank of the Moyola River, and taken from the existing A6. The bridge here is due to be widened (or replaced?) to accommodate the dual-carriageway, which will be a major job. The first picture appears to show a large excavation on the south west side the bridge, which would be in keeping with the construction of new bridge foundations. So progress appears to be good. Less progress can be reported on the legal challenge, which is why no construction is taking place between Toome and the Moyola River. Environmentalist Chris Murphy is appealing his lost legal case against TransportNI. This was due to be heard two days ago for but reasons reported by the BBC here, it has been adjourned for another six weeks until mid August. Hopefully this can be settled one way or the other on that date, which seems likely as the Appeal Court has indicated they will give judgement on the same day. This implies that the judge regards it as a fairly straightforward question. I recently wrote an opinion piece on the subject.

16 May 2017: Just a quick update to share an aerial movie of work underway on this scheme, taken from a drone by John Toner on 10 May. The footage is taken on the Randalstown to Toome stretch, and begins by looking east from approximately here. After about a minute moving east the video halts and goes west again. What is evident is how much has happened in the past fortnight since proper construction began - access roads have appeared along the whole stretch, excavation of cuttings is underway and a whole series of culverts (to carry watercourses) appear to be under construction. It is great to see so much work evident after such a short time, and I am sure the glorious weather of early May will have helped too. With thanks to John Toner for sharing this with us all.

2 May 2017: The Department for Infrastructure today announced that they have at last signed the main construction contract for the scheme and that proper construction work will begin within the next few weeks. Until now the only work that has taken place has been site clearance and archaeology which gets the site ready for work, but doesn't involve building anything permanent. However, DFI have also said that they will only be commencing work now on part of the scheme, namely the full Randalstown to Toome stretch, plus the western end of the Toome to Castledawson stretch, namely the bit west of the Moyola river as far as Castledawson roundabout. As this talk of parts of parts of the scheme is getting utterly confusing I've produced the map below to try to clarify what's going on:

The reason they are not starting work on the bit between the Moyola river and Toome is that it is highly likely that environmentalist Chris Murphy is about to launch another legal challenge (an appeal to March's ruling in favour of the DFI). He had been given four weeks, ie up until 25 April, to do this but I understand the judge later extended this to six weeks, which if correct would be Tuesday 9 May (I haven't confirmed this date). Currently there is nothing legally preventing DFI starting work on the entire scheme, since they won the legal case, but it seems that they have decided not to create unnecessary difficulties by proceeding on this bit ahead of the appeal.

The key point is that the eastern half of the scheme, Randalstown to Toome, will be starting imminently and is unaffected by the legal challenge. I see nothing to make me think that this element is in any danger, and it will likely be completed and be in use by the end of 2019, which will be very welcome for road users, especially since the legal challenge has already created a seven month delay. This eastern stretch is also the more badly needed of the two, being the lower standard of the two stretches. The western half of the scheme, Toome to Castledawson is looking more uncertain. If DFI win the presumed appeal then they can proceed with that stretch too, though the timescale is longer, with completion expected around 2021. Some have said that today's announcement means that there will now be no road close to Mossbawn or Lough Beg, but that conclusion is not justified as it will go ahead if Chris Murphy loses the appeal. But if Chris Murphy wins then this stretch would be back to the drawing board. Given the length of time for planning a major new road (usually a minimum of 3 years), tendering (if required, perhaps 9 months) and construction (another 4 years) Mr Murphy winning the legal challenge could mean that it could be 2025 before an ugprade to this part of the A6 is completed. However it is also worth noting that DFI have successfully defended their planning process up until now, and there is no particular reason to think they'd lose an appeal. Today they said "The Department will work to bring any future legal proceedings regarding this section of the route to a conclusion as soon as possible".

Having said all of that, there would be certain things about the decade-old design that could cetainly be improved should DFI be forced to go back to the drawing board for the western stretch. Apart from possibly changing the proposed route of the road, they could also delete the unnecessary Deerpark Road junction, and grade-separate the junctions on the existing Toome Bypass as should have been planned from the start. After all, if a connection to Deerpark Road, a minor rural road, can be financially justified as a full grade-separated junction, how on earth can not providing one at Drumderg or Roguery Road roundabouts in Toome be justified? Going back to the drawing board could allow such anomalies to be removed.

13 Apr 2017: Environmentalist Chris Murphy, who lost his legal challenge to the scheme last month, confirmed in a new court appeatrance on 5 April that he DOES intend to launch an appeal (see Mid Ulster Mail article). In a new court hearing he sought an immediate injunction to stop any work on the relevant portion of the scheme (apparently, the Creagh to Hillhead Road stretch), which the judge refused to grant, saying it should instead form part of any appeal. He has until 25 April to lodge an appeal. Mr Murphy also confirmed in court that although he had had his costs for the previous challenge capped at £5000 (with the remainder being funded by the taxpayer) he cannot afford to pay this amount, leaving it unclear who will pay for the shortfall. Even though TransportNI are currently free to go ahead and commence construction, it appears that they have only carried out very limited work since they won the legal challenge and the main construction contract has not yet been signed. Regardless of what happens with the planned appeal, I see no reason why work could not at least begin on the Randalstown to Toome stretch, though building it in two stages is likely to cost the taxpayer more money as the contractor will lose economies of scale.

29 Mar 2017: On Tuesday 27 March the judge gave her verdict on environmentalist Chris Murphy's legal challenge, exactly 6 months after he launched it. She dismissed his challenge and ruled that, contrary to his argued case, the Department for Infrastructure had carried out its environmental assessments appropriately, that they were based on up-to-date information and that they were accurate. She particularly noted that both the NIEA and RSPB had withdrawn their objections to the scheme. DFI welcomed the announcement. The upshot of this ruling is that work on the scheme can proceed immediately. Chris Murphy has six weeks to appeal and in subsequent media interviews he stated that he intends to do so. For example, he disputes the mitigation measures that NIEA and RSPB were responding to, although on what legal basis he would appeal is not clear from the inverviews. He said that he would ask the judge to give an injunction preventing DFI starting work on the affected section (which, since he destibed it as "2 miles" long presumably means the Creagh to Hillhead Road stretch only, ie the stretch that passes near Lough Beg). It is hard to see why the DFI would agree to this unless compelled to do so, since the scheme has passed its public inquiry, has the political approval of the last Executive (from both Sinn Fein and the DUP), has a financial allocation, has now been ruled lawful and has already been delayed by six months by this challenge, whcih has presumably cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds in the form of additional costs incurred by the contractor putting staff and machinery on hold. So, barring an inunction from a judge, I would expect to see proper earthworks getting underway on both halves of the scheme in the very near future. Even if an injunction were to be granted, work will at the very least be able to continue on the Randalstown to Toome stretch. In date terms, I would expect to see Randalstown to Toome open by the end of 2019 and the Toome to Castledawson stretch by late 2020.

Ahead of the ruling DFI has done a lote of preliminary site clearance work, mostly cutting down trees and hedges and creation of site yards but not any actual construction work. DFI also took possession of the only home impacted by the scheme about a month ago (the Vesting Order was not part of the legal challenge). I drove along this part of the A6 last week and it was clear that the site clearance work was essentially complete. But we are assisted by Scott Smith who took a nice shot a few days ago on the stretch between Randalstown and Toome showing how trees and hedges have been removed, fencing to demark the vested land erected and a site yard established.

View north-east along Ballynafey Road (see here for location) on 24 Mar 2017 showing fencing around the vested land (on right), a site yard (left foreground), tree felling (top right) and hedge removal (along road). At this location the new dual-carriageway will run from the top right to bottom left, in a cutting, and pass undernearth this local road which will be raised onto a bridge. [Scott Smith]

26 Feb 2017: The judicial review was finally heard in Belfast on 20th and 21st February. To recap, construction of this road was due to have begun in October 2016 but has been on hold since then due to a legal challenge brought by environmentalist Chris Murphy. Mr Murphy presented his case on 20th as reported here. Referring to the half of the scheme that lies between Toome and Castledawson, Mr Murphy argued that it has an unacceptable impact on a habitat used by migrating swans close to Lough Beg. Legally speaking, it is his contention that the DFI has not carried out an adequate assessment of the impact on this habitat because the original survey work was done over ten years ago and some factors have materially changed in that time. He claimed that the DFI had tried to "circumvent" the procedures around such matters. Some have also objected to the route on the grounds that it goes close to Seamus Heaney's home and passes through a culturally-significant landscape referred to repeatedly in his poetry. However this point didn't seem to feature in the court case. The DFI presented their defence on 21st as reported here. They admit that the route passes close to the overwintering swan habitat, but point out that it doesn't pass through it and claim that swans have been observed feeding right up to the edge of the Toome Bypass (which opened just over ten years ago, and also passes close by) and hence the road is unlikely to impact the swans. They argued that any impact on the habitat would be "small". They further argued that the Vesting Orders (which compel landowners to sell the land required for the road to the DFI) were not being challenged by Mr Murphy, which meant that if the judge ruled against the DFI, they would be left holding acres of vested land paid for by the public purse but with no use for it. The judge will now take some time, perhaps some weeks, to consider the cases made by the two sides and will then make a final ruling. This ruling will make clear the next steps for this scheme.

8 Feb 2017: The long-awaited judicial review that has caused the main construction contract to be on hold since October is to be heard later in February. In the interim, a preliminary siteworks contract continues with a lot of tree-felling work evident on both the Randalstown to Toome and Toome to Castledawson stretches in the past weeks. The outgoing DFI Minister has released a short video on Twitter which contains some aerial shots of the works underway - the start of the sceme at Randalstown is seen around 00:10, an area around Drumderg Roundabout in Toome at 00:31 and finally the terminus at Castledawson roundabout around 00:40. The legal challenge is only to the western half of the scheme (Toome to Castledawson) and the Minister seems confident that the outcome of the judicial review will, at the very least, allow the main construction contract to begin on the Randalstown to Toome stretch in March after the judicial review outcome is known. This would be very good news for supporters of the scheme. We will have to wait for the judicial review itself to know for sure since it will ultimately by up to the judge to decide on this point, and there is a worse-case possibility that a judgement against the western half could impact the eastern half too. The best-case scenario, for the DFI, would be that they win the judicial review in its entirely. In the video the Minister also says that "the money for this project is secured" and that is correct, since the full amount has already been budgeted and approved by the Executive (December 2015), and a contractor is already in place, and hence even the election and the possible delay in the creation of a new Executive should not impact on commencement of this scheme.

1 Jan 2017: This update has been added merely to note what has not happened since leave was granted in November for a judicial review into the Toome to Castledawson stretch of this scheme (the western half). There was a question at the time as to whether this would also delay the eastern part of the scheme, Toome to Randalstown, even though the judicial review did not affect it and the answer now seems to be “yes”. Work on the main contract was to have begun in October, and it is now the start of 2017 and it has still not begun. To date the only work that has taken place is a separate advanced site works contract (thing like vegetation clearance, archaeology). In a Written Answer in the Assembly on 14 December (AQW 8404/16-21) the Minister noted that the legal hearing doesn’t seem too far away: “A Judicial Review hearing … relating to the Habitats Directive will be heard early in the new year”. He then went on to note that “if the outcome of the hearing goes against my Department, contingency measures are being explored to advance this section to construction in this financial year”. That wording suggests that we will see NO work take place on any of the main contract before we know the outcome of the legal challenge. This unfortunately means that the Toome-Randalstown stretch will be delated by perhaps six months, which will be frustrating given that (a) it is the worst standard stretch of the entire A6 and (b) is not being challenged by Chris Murphy. The Minister’s wording also does not sound definitive as to whether it will actually be possible to advance part of the scheme if the hearing goes against the Department. That presumably is dependent on the outcome of the judicial review.

24 Nov 2016: Today the judge gave his verdict to the application for a judicial review into this scheme, and has decided to grant leave. There is so much to say on this subject that I have explored it more fully over on my blog. But for the purposes of this progress update, this means that there will be a further legal hearing, probably in January with a judgement expected some weeks after that. If the challenge succeeds then the western half of the scheme (Toome to Castledawson) may not be going ahead for several years. If the challenge fails, then work on the western half could get underway early in 2017. What the implications are for the eastern half (Randalstown to Toome) is less clear. This portion was not subject to the legal challenge, though it is part of the same construction contract, and the Minister has said the he is keen to explore options for proceeding with it straight away. Whether this is possible will depend on exactly what environmental assessments are affected by the challenge and whether these overlap with the eastern part of the scheme. Certainly one of the Minister's advisors seemed confident tonight. Once again we are in the position of waiting.

14 Nov 2016: As stated in the previous update, the application for a judicial review into this scheme, which has been brought by a private individual (Chris Murphy) is currently underway. The first date (28 Oct) was not sufficient to hear all the evidence and the hearing was adjourned. A second date has now been set of 10am on 21 Nov 2016. Hopefully this second date will provide sufficient time to hear all the evidence and allow the judge to come to a decision as to whether to allow the judicial review. The evidence that has been presented so far has gone into considerable depth, so we will have to reserve comment on the matter until we hear what the judge makes of it all. Meanwhile, the advance site works contract is still underway - this is separate from the main construction work which is currently on hold.

28 Oct 2016: The legal challenge (application for a judicial review into the A6 dualling scheme) was heard today in the High Court in Belfast. According to Seamus Leheny (FTA), who attended the hearing, the substance of the challenge was "quite in depth but focused on legality of environmental habitat assessment". Unfortunately the hearing ran out of time today and has been adjourned and will have to wait until another day is allocated at the High Court to hear more. Part of the legal challenge is a request that the court stop construction work. Although a separate advance site works contract is currently underway, the main contract has not yet begun. Since the legal challenge only affects the western half of the scheme (Toome To Castledawson) the big question is whether or not work on the the eastern half of the scheme (Randalstown to Toome, aka the notorious Moneynick Road) can begin in the interim since it is unaffected by the legal challenge. Nobody seems to be able to give me a straight answer to this simple question. Two things are clear: (1) the scheme is legally in two halves, ie they went through all the statutory processes independently (2) both are, however, being built by the contractor as part of a single contract which was awarded to Graham/Farrans joint venture. I was recently contacted by a resident impacted by the scheme who said the same thing: that both TransportNI and the contractor had assured them that the two halves were separate, but yet a Sinn Fein special advisor to the Deputy First Minister has said that the entire contract has had to be stopped because of the legal challenge. The Minister seemed to say the same thing in a Written Answer in the Assembly ( AQW 4475/16-21) when he said "the Department is completing preliminary advance works which had commenced prior to the receipt of the Application for Leave papers. The main construction works are not being progressed." I have asked this question directly several times but have not had a clear reply, so perhaps nobody actually knows the exact situation. One other thing is clear - works were supposed to get underway in October, and it is now the 28th and it has not started, so this at least suggests that no work is going to take place on either bit of the new dual-carriageway until this legal challenge is settled. This will be immensely frustrating both to road users and the contractor, and indeed for those whose properties are affected since their plans to move house are now also on hold pending a possible overturning of the Vesting Order. Let's hope that the Courts can conclude this hearing to give some certainty to everyone affected within a short timeframe.

2 Oct 2016: The "Vesting Order" for this scheme became active on 27 September. This is the legal procedure that transfers ownership of the land required for the scheme to the Department for Infrastructure, although the exact amount of financial compensation has yet to be worked out in all cases. On the same day a "private individual" lodged a legal objection to part of this scheme at Belfast High Court. The scheme is legally composed of two parts (Randalstown to Toome and Toome to Castledawson) and as far as I can tell the legal action only affects the second part. Therefore work on the Randalstown to Toome section can commence on the ground as planned during October under the contractor, Graham/Farrans Joint Venture. This stretch is almost entirely offline so regular road users will probably not notice much happening as the work will largely take place out of sight of the existing A6.

Whether work can start on the Toome to Castledawson section will depend on what the High Court makes of the legal challenge, and it's not yet known what grounds the objection are being made on. If the legal challenge fails then work can begin on this stretch, too, within the next few weeks. The main objection seems to be that it passes close by Seamus Heaney's former home and through a landscape that inspired a number of poems. A concert was held in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast last week by opponents of the scheme. This week saw a bit of a war of words about the scheme with Seamus Heaney's brother suggesting that local people, including himself, supported the scheme whereas Seamus Heaney's son questioned the route that the road is to take. Certainly a web page set up to crowdsource funding for the legal challenge isn't particularly compelling in terms of indicating widespread support. But the challenge will be decided on legality, not popular opinion, and so it is Court's decision that we must wait for.

17 Sep 2016: A lengthy update today as there is much to say. We are now very close to this scheme finally getting underway - the final detailed design has been ongoing for some months, and construction work is due to get underway within the next few weeks with the contractor (Graham/Farrans) already gearing up to begin. Only a few days ago we learned that there was to be a legal challenge to the A5 scheme, but yesterday we learned that opponents to this scheme on the A6 (a different group from those challenging the A5) intend to launch a last-minute legal challenge to this scheme. It seems that the concerns focus on the impact on the landscape here, which was once home to Seamus Heaney, and its impact on wildlife. I outline these concerns in more detail below. All these issues were, of course, discussed at the Public Inquiry in 2007 and from reading the Environmental Statement there is no doubt that it is an environmentally sensitive area. TransportNI’s proposals passed the 2007 Public Inquiry and from TransportNI’s point of view that ought to be the end of the matter. However, the issues that were discussed back then remain concerns for those involved and it seems that the imminent start of construction has brought them back into public light. For example tomorrow night a concert is being held at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast to raise awareness of the issues - a most interesting event, as I believe it is the first time a concert has ever been held to oppose a road scheme in Northern Ireland!

I have been in touch, via Twitter, with one of the leaders of the opposition group, James Orr (who works for Friends of the Earth though note that FoE is not the group launching the legal action). Mr Orr clarified that the challenge is being brought because of what he feels is “several flawed assessments”, specifically the absence of a Strategic Environmental Assessment to look at alternatives, what he believes to be a flawed Environmental Impact Assessment, and “out of date info, eg this land now floods”. Conor Macauley of the BBC has also put together a video exploring the objections and TransportNI's response. The requirement on TransportNI to carry out appropriate assessments is all set out in law. A legal challenge can be brought if someone has reason to believe that the Department for Infrastructure not carrying out its work in a way that complies with legislation. It is important to stress that it is every citizen’s right to launch such a challenge as part of the process of government accountability. If the legal challenge succeeds then it would mean that the Department had not complied with legislation, in which case the challengers would be vindicated, the Department would be at fault and the road could be delayed by several years or possibly not be built at all. If the legal challenge fails, then it would mean that the Department had complied with legislation, i.e. had done everything properly, and construction of the road could proceed as planned. We will have to see which outcome results.

It has to be said that one weakness in the Department’s position is that it is now nine years since the scheme had its public inquiry, and seven years since it was deemed to have passed the Inquiry via the Departmental Statement. At that time I don’t think anyone in what was then Roads Service anticipated that it would take this long for funding to be allocated by the Executive, which is the fundamental cause of the nine year delay. It is conceivable (though I don’t know either way) that something material might have changed in that time and the legal challenge may zero in on this question. (If that turns out to be a make-or-break issue, it will impact other schemes that have had their public inquiries but not proceeded to construction, such as the A55 Outer Ring upgrade at Knock in Belfast which had its public inquiry in 2010 but has still not begun.) Additionally elements of the Departmental Statement released in 2009 contained statements of intent to carry out work as part of the scheme which have since been quietly abandoned, e.g. the grade-separation of Drumderg roundabout on the existing Toome Bypass. This, too, may be a weakness in the Department’s position, though again I do not know whether that is actually the case. The courts will have to judge.

Leaving aside the merits, or otherwise, of the legal challenge this will be frustrating to supporters of the scheme, mainly residents of the North West, business interests in the North West and the travelling public because this is the lowest-standard stretch of road between the province’s two cities and has a poor safety record. An upgrade to the stretch has been planned since 1964 and politicians in the North West have been campaigning for a road upgrade for some decades, and we are now closer than at any point since the 1960s to it actually happening. The organisation most likely to be upset by a delay is Sinn Fein, and in particular Martin McGuinness who has made upgrades to the A5 and A6 critical policies for the Executive and they will be particularly frustrated that both schemes are being subjected to legal challenges and potential delays simultaneously. Whatever way the legal challenge goes it is likely to create heated debate, as has certainly been evident on Twitter over the past 24 hours. I think it is fair to say that everyone involved is sincere in only wanting what is best for society - they simply disagree on what the “best” actually is.

17 Aug 2016: The new DfI Minister held a press conference this morning where he announced that construction of this scheme will begin in October. The scheme already has both funding and a contractor, but time has been occupied over the past few months by detailed design work and completing the statutory processes for the one outstanding junction (see previous update below). He said that archaeological work would begin within the next week and the Vesting Order will be "made" in September. The Vesting Order is the legal document that transfers ownership of the land from the landowners to TransportNI. It has existed in draft form for some years now, but the formal "making" of the Vesting Order is what makes it actually happen. The contractor, Graham/Farrans Joint Venture, will be getting to work on the ground in October. This scheme has one of the longest construction periods I have seen for a road scheme in many years. The Minister said that the eastern part (Randalstown to Toome) would be opening in 2019, with the western part, which has more environmental constraints such as Whooper Swans, opening in 2020. I did raise my eyebrows at the estimated cost of £160m, given that the Minister quoted a figure of £150m only two months ago, and in late 2014 the cost was still being given as £120-140m. So there have apparently been some last minute cost escalations. The scheme is very positive - first and foremost it will upgrade the worst standard section of the entire Belfast-Derry route, which has claimed many lives over the years and really needs a safety improvement. Secondly, it will make the journey that little bit easier and also more reliable in time terms, while reducing the congestion at Toome in the rush hour. The only down side is the decision to retain the existing roundabouts on the Toome Bypass. I have said many times that I think this is a mistake akin to creating another Hillsborough roundabout situation. I am quite sure in 20 years we will be talking about why this was done and will be considering an upgrade. But I do not want to be negative either - the scheme is overwhelmingly a good thing, and great news that it is finally going ahead. One piece of trivia to end - the A31 Magherafelt Bypass is currently under construction and is due to be completed in October. Both it and this A6 scheme terminate at the Castledawson roundabout. So for a few weeks in October we will have two separate road schemes underway at the same time, both of which terminate at the same place, a rare event indeed!

Deidre Mackle (TransportNI Divisional Roads Manager), Infrastructure Minister Chris Hazzard and Andrew Hitchenor (Strategic Road Improvements Manager at TransportNI) at today's press conference. Image from here.

9 Aug 2016: It's been seven months since the previous update. Not much has been visible on the ground, but plenty has been going on behind the scenes. Firstly, the controversial Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road grade separate junction has finally been settled after three public inquiries. On 18 May 2016 the DfI (the department which has taken over from the old DRD) issued their Departmental Statement which confirms that following the third public inquiry they are proceeding with the revised design. This was the only major outstanding design issue that could impact on project start so it is great that that is now resolved. Detailed design work has been ongoing during the spring and summer and is almost complete. Archaeological works are due to begin later this month. The contractor could possibly be on site, then, in late September ("subject to final approval of the business case" within the DFI of course). One place that will be a restriction on the contractor is the stretch between Toome and Deerpark Road junction which crosses a feeding round for Whooper Swans. This means that no work can take place on this stretch between September and March, so work there will have be focused on the late spring and summer. Finally, in a Written Answer in the Assembly in mid June (AQW 372/16-21), the DfI Minister quietly slipped in that the total cost of the scheme has now risen to £150m (up from £120-140m as of November 2014), representing a further rise. The cost is now more than double the estimate of £70m in 2006. This sort of cost escalation is repeated in almost every road scheme as it progresses through planning and is a combination of progressively more complex designs and early optimism. If the scheme does begin in September 2016, then adding the (rather lengthy) three-and-a-half year construction timescale to this, completion can be expected in early 2020!

28 Jan 2016: A long update tonight as there is much to say! In a Written Answer in the Assembly last week (AQW 52171/11-16) the DRD Minister gave more information about timescales for the start of this scheme. She explained that there is still "ongoing detailed design work [which] will be complete by spring / summer 2016". In other words, the scheme was not quite "shovel ready" as I had thought when the money was allocated. She goes on to say that the project will "commence in summer / autumn 2016". This is a bit later than she said in the Assembly a few weeks ago (see update below for 11 January) so it suggests there is still a good bit of work to be done before the bulldozers can roll in. The DRD have now placed PDFs of the current design of the scheme on their web site. The current "detailed design" work will not affect this design much - it is more likely to be more technical design such as the depths of excavations required, extent of piling for bridge structures etc. This scheme is extremely welcome, since the Moneynick Road in particular (the bit from the end of the motorway at Randalstown to Toome) is the most sub-standard part of the entire Belfast-Derry road.

Next, I want to comment on the duration of the scheme. I was rather taken aback by quotes from the DRD quoted in the media two weeks ago that the scheme would take "three and a half years" to complete. This is a good bit longer than the "24 months" estimate given in 2010 and seems an astonishingly long time for 8 miles of road - the A1 Newry Bypas for example is 8 miles long and took two and a half years despite requiring explosives to blast away thousands of tonnes of rock. I had hoped that this was a misunderstanding, but I spoke to an official at the DRD who confirmed this timescale and said this was based on the A8 Larne dualling scheme, recently completed, that also took a similar length of time. Now, this is true (that scheme lasted 3 years and 4 months) but it does give us some hope, because in the case of the Larne scheme the road was fully open after 2 years and 9 months, and the remaining 7 months were occupied by landscaping works. So I would say, fear not - it's likely that the road will be in use sooner than three and a half years. The most straightforward stretch is Randalstown to Toome, since it is entirely offline away from the current road and has no junctions on it, so I would place money money on this stretch being open and in use within two years or so of project commencement (say, by autumn 2018), with the Toome to Castledawson section following after perhaps three years (so, late 2019).

Now I cannot continue without mentioning the two existing roundabouts on the Toome Bypass. Although the Departmental Statement issued back in 2009 explicitly stated that the DRD would grade-separate at least one of them, Drumderg roundabout, as part of the scheme, this no longer seems to be happening. We know that the Roads Service Board approved a plan to upgrade the Toome Bypass in January 2009. Minutes of a DRD Board meeting I saw back then (but no longer online) say "The Board discussed Mr White’s 22 January 2009 paper, A6 Randalstown to Castledawson Dualling, and approved the recommendations listed to amend the design at the Annaghmore and Bellshill Road junctions, grade–separate the Drunderg roundabout, remove the Roguery Road roundabout and the Castledawson roundabout to remain ‘at grade’." In December 2009 the DRD even published a plan for how they would upgrade the Toome Bypass on their web site (see my update below for Dec 2009) but this document now seems to have disappeared. The fact that Roguery Road and Drumderg Roundabouts will remain in situ after this project is complete is a mistake that mars an otherwise excellent project. The two roundabouts sit right in the middle of the dualling scheme. Two of the key objectives of the scheme are to "reduce journey times" and to "reduce congestion and delays". These roundabouts clearly increase journey times and will create delays - when compared to a free-flowing road. The roundabouts will also be anomalies in that they will be the only at-grade junctions between York Street in Belfast and Castledawson - every other junction will be grade separated. I do not accept the DRD's explanation that the roundabouts are justified because they have sufficient capacity. They are factually correct that the roundabouts will have sufficient capacity, but this argument does not make sense in light of the stated objectives of the dualling scheme as quoted above. If this logic were carried though, every junction on the upgaded road might as well be built as an at-grade roundabout. Nor does this explanantion explain the enthusiastic plan to upgrade the Bypass that was approved in 2009. The "Toome roundabouts" will become the "Hillsborough roundabout" of the A6. I have asked but nobody at TransportNI seems to be able to offer any explanation for why neither of these roundabouts is now to be removed.

11 Jan 2016: In a press release yesterday, and today in the Assembly, the DRD Minister announced what we widely expected, namely that this scheme will be going ahead soon (see my blog). I had predicted that work would begin in April, based on the fact that this is when the funding allocation would begin and the fact that the scheme was "shovel read". However, the dates given today are slightly later than this - the press release says "work on site expected to start by the end of the summer", although in the Assembly the Minister said "We are hoping that it is going to happen at the start of the summer". Why the later date than I anticipated? The press release states that the detailed design work I mentioned in the November update below is still ongoing: saying "detailed design work is progressing". So it seems that the scheme is not quite shovel ready. But we'll not be churlish on this point, since it's certainly a lot closer to being shovel ready than it would have been had the previous DRD Minister not progressed the lengthy procurement process over the past year. So what happens next? The DRD have to actually buy the land needed (known as "making" the Vesting Order) so this will also have to happen once the money is available (April). Once the land is purchased it will need to be fenced off - this is usually the first thing observers actually see happening on the ground - followed by vegetation clearance. The contractor will also need time to gear up, constructing their site yards and getting machinery and portacabins etc onto the site. Only after all that will we see actual earthworks starting, and it looks as if we can expect that to be underway during the summer. In terms of timescale, the last official estimate in 2010 was that it would last 24 months, but I haven't seen an updated estimate. The Minister seemed rather vague on the point, saying only that "with a fair wind, it should be completed around 2019" (in the Assembly today). Even January 2019 would be about two and a half years after a summer commencement, and I would hope that it wouldn't take much longer than that. I would be a bit more optimistic and say it could be complete before the end of 2018 - but that's not "official"! Road users should not experience too much disruption during the works since the road is almost entirely offline - except for a couple of locations either side of Toome, and a short stretch at the Castledawson end where the new road subsumes the 1992 Castledawson Bypass. Finally, once work gets underway we will have a very rare scenario where two independent road schemes under active construction terminate at the same point - the A31 Magherafelt Bypass also terminates on the Castledawson roundabout and is also under construction. Let's hope the two sets of contractors don't get in each other's way!

19 Dec 2015: Two days ago the Finance Minister delivered her budget for the next financial year. This budget included funding of £21m in the 2016/17 financial year (April to March) for the A6 and also committed £57m, £60m, £60m and £60m for the following four years. This is more than enough money to allow this scheme to be built. Given that it is "shovel ready", ie all planning is completed and a contractor is in place, I think it is highly likely, therefore, that construction on this scheme will commence in April 2016 and be the next major road scheme in Northern Ireland, allaying the fears I expressed in the previous update. This timescale is my own speculation, and has not been confirmed by the DRD, but I cannot think of any reason why this should not be the case.

29 Nov 2015: This is currently the only road scheme that is "shovel ready", but not yet commenced, in Northern Ireland. Over the past year I have taken the view that this scheme will be the next major road scheme in Northern Ireland to get funding to proceed to construction. I still think this, but it has to be noted that the degree of support that has been given to the A5 project by the DUP and Sinn Fein (in the document "A Fresh Start: The Stormont Agreement and Implementation Plan" published on 17 November) means that there is a possibility that it will get pushed down the priority list. However, it remains the case that this scheme is the only one that is ready to go to construction right now (even the A5 still needs another public inquiry, while York Street interchange has only just had its inquiry) so if funding were to be come available within the next few months, this scheme is the only real contender. Beyond a few months these two other schemes will approach a "shovel ready" state themselves, which would muddy the waters a bit in terms of what could go ahead first. Meanwhile, design work is continuing on this scheme. This has involved some site investigation works over the past month or two, which are now completed. These include locating and monitoring ground water levels, and the work will have been evident to road users passing by. To be clear, this is not construction work on the road itself - these works are intended to inform the detailed design process. With thanks to Patrick Duffy for some observations on this scheme.

29 Oct 2015: It seems that a minor Public Inquiry was held on 29 September into the Vesting Order for the Bellshill/Annaghmore junction. This one sneaked past me, and I only found out about it when the documents were posted on the DRD web site this week. The Inquiry was very limited in scope: not examining the proposed bypass, or even the proposals for this junction, but merely the decision to vest extra land in order to excavate an extra area of low ground to provide capacity for floodwater during heavy rain. The transcript of the public inquiry shows that it was not a rubber-stamping exercise, but involved some debating which got rather heated on occasion. It does not say whether or not the Inspector has produced his report (unlikely in just four weeks), or what his recommendations might be, but I would be surprised if the Inspector's Report does not approve the plan. With the Deputy First Minister recently suggesting that progress on the A5 and A6 are "red line" issues for him, I am still of the view that this scheme will be the next major road scheme in Northern Ireland to get the go-ahead, even against the other scheme that seems to be a high priority, the York Street Interchange in Belfast. If it does not, then I think there would be something wrong with the decision making progress.

13 May 2015: It was announced yesterday that the contract for construction of this road was awarded to Graham/Farrans joint venture on 1 May. It is important to stress that even though the scheme has gone through all its statutory processes and a contractor appointed the scheme is not going to be built just yet, because as yet there is no money for it. What it does mean, though, is that Graham/Farrans will now progress the design of the road up to the point that work could begin within weeks of money being secured. This process by which a contractor is involved in detailed design ahead of actual construction is called "Early Contractor Involvement" (ECI) and it has been used very successfully on other recent schemes, such as the A8 dualling to Larne. TransportNI seem convinced that ECI brings benefits in terms of foreseeing problems earlier on when they are cheaper to resolve so expect to see it become standard on large schemes in the years ahead. As far as I know the Vesting Order (which compels landowners to sell the land needed to TransportNI) has not yet been "made" (ie, they haven't actually pressed the button and bought the land). So when money does get allocated to this scheme you can expect to see the Vesting Order being "made" as the first step, and then construction getting underway as the second step. TransportNI are saying nothing publicly about when the scheme might begin, but some folks I've spoken to seem privately hopeful that money will be secured within two years. Having said that, there is an Assembly election in that period, so we may have a new DRD Minister by then, so who knows? Nevertheless, I would be very surprised indeed if this is not the next major road scheme to get funding in Northern Ireland.

28 Jan 2015: The good news for this scheme is that the last remaining obstacle - the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road has been resolved. Planning permission was granted on 3 December 2014, which means that the scheme is now 'good to go'. A process to appoint a contractor has been underway now since July. As explained in the update on 14 Aug 2014 (below) this is to get the scheme "shovel-ready" so that it can begin if money becomes available. The Northern Ireland budget for 2015-16 was published earlier this month, and unfortunately TransportNI have been given no funding for this (or indeed, any further) new road schemes for the period 2015/16. So that means that, while a contractor will likely be appointed during the first half of 2015, there is no prospect of construction beginning before April 2016 at the earliest.

7 Dec 2014: There have been a few developments in this scheme. Firstly, the process to appoint a contractor for the scheme is ongoing. As noted in the previous update (below) this is to get the scheme "shovel-ready" so that it can begin if money becomes available. Currently there is no funding allocation to the scheme, so the appointment of a contractor does not mean construction will get underway. However in the minutes of a TransportNI board meeting held on 1 October (but just published) there is the comment that "DFP [Department of Finance] has given approval to proceed with the Phase 1 of the project". This is a critical comment, since a funding allocation from DFP is the one remaining obstacle to the scheme getting underway once a contractor is appointed. Note however the reference to "Phase 1", which appears to mean that the funding is NOT for the whole of the scheme from Randalstown to Castledawson, but only part of it. It does not explain what "Phase 1" refers to; however I would speculate that it refers to the easternmost stretch from Randalstown to Toome which has been through all statutory processes and has no obstacles other than finance to overcome. The westernmost stretch still has one outstanding issue, which is the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which remains stuck in the planning process. Interestingly the Planning Service web site says that a decision on this issue was made on "3 December" but the site does not yet say what the decision is. We will have to wait and see. Finally, in the Assembly on 18 November the Minister confirmed that the cost estimate for the scheme is now £120-140m. This is a bit more than the previous estimate of £100-120m given in 2010. I am still of the view that this scheme will be the next new road scheme in Northern Ireland to get funding (the previous two being the A31 Magherafelt Bypass and the A26 Frosses Road dualling which are both due to begin in 2015).

14 Aug 2014: The tender for construction of this scheme was finally released on 28 July 2014, much later than anticipated back in March (see below). Strictly speaking what has been released is merely the first round of the process, during which a list of prospective tenderers is drawn up. The "proper" tender process will then take place afterwards out of the public eye. But to the layperson it's all part of a single process that results in a contractor being appointed. The total cost of the construction work (ie, not including land purchase and planning costs) is given as £95m-£115m. As this is quite close to the overall project cost of £100m-£120m being given in April 2010, the final cost including land could well come in higher than this. Contractors have until 28 August to express interest in tendering, with the tender itself due to be released to selected contractors on 17 November. We could therefore expect to see a contractor appointed during the Spring of 2015. It is important to stress that, unlike other recent schemes, this scheme has no funding to proceed to construction, so the appointment of a contractor will NOT lead to work beginning on the ground (unless money is given to the scheme by the Department of Finance in the interim). The plan seems to be that the scheme can be got ready to a point that, should money be made available at some point in the future, construction can begin rapidly, perhaps within a matter of weeks, since the contractor will have been appointed. This is not an ideal situation for the winning contractor, but the best that can be achieved in the circumstances, and is laid plan by observing that the time limit for completion of the work is given as 28 February 2026, which is appropriately vague!. Meanwhile, there has been no movement over the past 6 months on the main outstanding issue, which is the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which remains frustratingly mired in the planning process.

1 Mar 2014: The DRD web site is now giving notice of a construction tender, to be released in April 2014. Procurement normally takes about 9 months, so we could expect to see a contractor appointed by January or February 2015. However, this scheme has not yet been given any funding, so what is going on? It seems that this is a "no value Framework contract" (explained here) which splits the contract into two parts: design, and then construction, but with no guarantee that the construction phase will actually occur. This is similar to the way the contractors for the A5 scheme were appointed. The DRD explain that "This form of contract allows the appointment of a contractor and progresses the scheme to a “shovel ready” position, allowing construction to commence immediately funding is confirmed." Presumably the hope is that the scheme can be got ready to a point that, should money be made available at some point in the future, construction can begin rapidly, perhaps within a matter of weeks. This would seem to be a sensible approach. The only other outstanding issue is the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which is still awaiting planning approval.

5 Nov 2013: Although this scheme has failed to get an allocation in the latest funding round to allow construction to begin in the period April 2014-April 2015, it was given a smaller allocation to allow design and preparation work to continue which will at least ensure that it is "shovel ready" when money does become available. There is the outstanding matter of the design of the grade separated junction at Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road, which is still awaiting planning approval. The NI Executive's position on this scheme remains unclear. The Finance Minister who made the announcement said "Importantly, the A6 preparatory work does not commit the Executive contractually to that project. The Executive took the view that, until there is clarity on the A5 project, we cannot afford to commit contractually to the A6 project, since delivering both in parallel is unaffordable without there being a serious detrimental impact on all other departmental capital budgets." This seems to mean that the A6 scheme is so expensive (almost twice the price of the A26 dualling scheme north of Glarryford that did get funding) that the DRD is not prepared to go ahead with it while there is still a chance that the A5 scheme could resume, as there would not be enough funds to complete both at the same time. This means that the A6 scheme is, effectively, still dependent on the outcome of the A5 scheme. Since further decisions on the A5 are unlikely in the next six months or so, it looks like this scheme will remain in limbo for some time yet.

5 Jul 2013: As outlined in the discussion further up this page, the one outstanding issue on this scheme is the design of the Annaghmore Road/Bellshill Road grade separated junction at Castledawson. The initial design was rejected at the 2007 public inquiry. A revised design was then rejected at the 2012 public inquiry. The issue seems to be the proximity of proposed link roads to houses in the area. As anticipated, the DRD did indeed submit their third proposed design for planning approval on 27 June. The link I have given is to the planning service web site, where you can download detailed designs, but here is a shortcut to the relevant map [4MB] showing the design. It differs from the previous proposal in that the link road joining Annaghmore Road and Bellshill Road no longer passes between two housing developments, but instead passes further to the east of the built up area, as was suggested by the public inquiry inspector. The design has also gained a roundabout, and the farm accommodation overbridge - which was in the original design but was missing from the second one - has returned. I have added a screenshot of the map further up this page. The junction is now in the planning process. If there are a sufficient number of objections, a third public inquiry may be needed. Already I have heard that some local residents are still unhappy with this revised design, so we shall have to wait and see.

1 May 2013: Further to my update of three days ago, the DRD Minister said in the Assembly yesterday that progression of this scheme will NOT be delayed by the ongoing work to finalise the design for the troublesome Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road junction, near Castledawson. His actual words were "My officials are examining a further junction layout following the inspector’s rejection of the alternative, which was examined at a public inquiry in February 2012.  Officials intend to submit a planning application within the next month.  The Castledawson junction would not delay progression of the main scheme." This is a very significant point, since without the need to wait to get this junction finalised, this scheme must surely jump to the top of the list of possible road schemes to be progressed with the money freed up by the 12-18 month delay to the A5 project. I am not a betting man, but if I were this would be the scheme I would put my money on as the most likely to go ahead in the very near future. Having said all that, it's not clear to me exactly why the junction design would not delay the project, since its construction will, by default, involve sealing off access to these two local roads and so some kind of new junction will have to be built. Perhaps the hope is that the scheme can begin on the assumption that the junction design will be finalised part way through the procurement or construction phase and then be completed as a latter part of the work.

28 April 2013: The DRD has now confirmed that they will be putting in a planning application for their third attempt at the Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road junction, near Castledawson (see previous update) during May. With the A5 project now on hold for at least a year, and the DRD minister actively looking for other projects to spend his money on, it seems sensible to resolve what is now the only outstanding issue with the A6 scheme as quickly as possible in case there is an opportunity to proceed with this scheme. However, it is possible that the revised planning application may lead to yet another public inquiry, in which case we could still be a year or more away from having the issue with this junction resolved.

27 January 2013: As it's been a year since the last update, a quick recap seems in order. Firstly, the proposed dual-carriageway went to Public Inquiry in 2007. The Inspector recommended that the road go ahead. However, he also recommended that the design of the connections to Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road, near Castledawson, be revisited as they were not acceptable in their designed form. The issue was primarily the impact of both the access arrangements and the physical impact on houses and farms on these two roads. The DRD then went back to the drawing board and came up with 5 alternative options, which were published in January 2011. One of these was selected and brought forward as a replacement proposal. However, 25 letters of objection were received along with 5 petitions. A Public Inquiry was held into the revised design in February 2012, and the Inspector's Report was finally published last week. The result was a setback for the scheme, since the Inspector has rejected the revised design! The DRD has accepted this recommendation and agreed to go back and have yet another look at the design. This means a potential further delay to the project, since DRD will now have to apply for planning permission again, not to mention the possibility of a further Public Inquiry if this third design also receives significant objections. This third design seems likely to be based on an option recommended by the Inspector at the 2012 Public Inquiry. I have included maps of all three designs - from 2007 to present - above. Due to this latest delay, it now seems unlikely that this scheme could progress to construction in the near future (ie, 2-3 year timeframe). However, since this scheme is arguably one of the most badly needed of all planned road schemes in Northern Ireland we can only hope that a satisfactory solution to this issue is found soon.

14 February 2012: Today saw a major funding announcement with the money that had previously been earmarked for the A5 scheme being reallocated for the next four years. The Minister had a limited pot of cash to allocate, but the main surprise for me is that this scheme has not been given the go-ahead for construction in the next four years. As I said in November's update, this was one of the few schemes that had a good chance of going ahead as it is very well advanced, is not particularly expensive, and involves upgrading one of the worst stretches of the A6 (Moneynick Road from Randalstown to Toome). However, the Minister has chosen to press ahead with the A5 in preference to the A6. There are strong arguments either way, but I would anticipate this leading to some debate in the weeks ahead.

4 February 2012: The supplementary public inquiry into the proposed junction at Bellshill Road/Annaghmore Road, which was postponed last September, will now begin at 10.30am on 13 Feb 2012 at Christ Church Parish Hall, 10 Station Road, Castledawson. The inquiry was postponed because it was deemed necessary to await the outcome of the Magherafelt Area Plan (MAP), which was finally adopted on 14 December 2011, perhaps to avoid pre-judging the outcome of the MAP. Now that the MAP has been adopted, it seems the inquiry can go ahead. The inspector is Mr JA Robb, who also chaired the original 2007 inquiry into scheme as a whole. Mr Robb is a self-employed Personal Development Advisor. There is still no news on timescale for this scheme - the official position is still that it will not proceed until after 2015.

12 November 2011: According to a report presented by Roads Service to Derry City Council two weeks ago, the supplementary public inquiry into the Bellshill Road junction (see previous update) must now be delayed until after the formal adoption of the Magherafelt Area Plan, I believe for legal reasons. This may happen next year, but we do not know. The main public inquiry took place in 2007.

Last Wednesday's announcement that the Irish government was delaying its promised £400m towards the A5 means that the A5 now cannot proceed on the timescale envisaged, ie before 2016. This has created confusion as to how Stormont's cash that has suddenly been released should be spent. There are lots of road schemes in planning, but due to the length of time the legal processes take, only four schemes could proceed in the near future. These are the ones that have had their public inquiries and are:

  • A2 dualling Greenisland
  • A6 dualling Randalstown to Castledawson (ie this scheme)
  • A8 dualling to Larne
  • and of course, the big A5 scheme that is now on the long finger.
It is therefore the first three of these that I believe have the highest chance of proceeding soon. This scheme on the A6 does have to wait for the Magherafelt Area Plan, but this may not be a significan delay, and thus I would not be surprised if the coming months see movement on this A6 scheme.

21 Sep 2011: The public inquiry due to be held last Monday (into the proposed junction at Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road in Castledawson) was cancelled last week without explanation, or more accurately was postponed to an unspecified date in the future. No reason is given, but it may be that some issue has come up that is easier to sort out before the inquiry than during it. The arrangement proposed at this location has been locally very controversial.

23 July 2011: Although the public inquiry for this scheme happened in 2007, Roads Service have now announced that a supplementary public inquiry will take place in September. The original inquiry recommended changes to the junction at Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road in Castledawson, which took a long time to finalise (see previous update). Because this new design requires more land and impacts on more properties than the original scheme, a new public inquiry is needed to look at these specific proposals (not the whole scheme). The Public Inquiry will be chaired by Mr JA Robb and will begin at 10.30am on 19 Sep 2011 in Christ Church Parish Hall, 10 Station Road, Castledawson. Full details here.

14 Jan 2011: It is a mixture of good and bad news for those interested in this scheme. On the plus side, Roads Service seem to have finally decided on the final layout of the junction at Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road in Castledawson. This has been very controversial and has undergone a series of public consultantions and amendments. Roads Service have now revealed their final design and, while admitting that it will not please everyone, say that they believe it satisfies the largest number of people. The final design involves a new link road between Bellshill Road and Annaghmore Road, bridged over the upgraded A6, with sliproads providing access to and from the A6. The bad news is that Roads Service have revealed their budget for 2011-2015 and, due to lack of money, this scheme has now been put on hold, seemingly until at least 2015. This is very sad news, especially since this scheme had advanced to the point of being one of the next schemes due to begin.

30 Dec 2010: In a press release issued two weeks ago, the Minister stated that "subject to finance" he expected this scheme to get underway "in 2011" which is unchanged from the position in the summer. With the most recent Northern Ireland budget now decided, it does look as if this scheme may well go ahead within this timescale. Regarding the objections to the proposed junctions on the Toome to Castledawson part of the scheme, Roads Service's own page is saying "the planning of the revised junction improvements to be complete in late 2010". It's not clear whether this is current information or not as Roads Service's web site is frequently out of date.

18 Nov 2010: I wrote letters to three public representatives a month ago arguing that the decision to leave the two roundabouts at Toome in place was a mistake. Mark Durkan (MP for Foyle) did not acknowledge the letter. Fred Cobain (Chair of the Regional Development Committee) replied after a month to say that he had passed the letter on to Roads Service. Conor Murphy also passed his letter on to Roads Service who sent a reply setting out the logic behind the decision. They said "the volume of traffic joining/leaving the Drumderg roundabout is

  • well above the capacity of a compact grade-separated junction
  • well within the capacity of an enlarged at grade roundabout and
  • is miniscule when compared with the capacity of full grade separation."

They also note that the proposed roundabout would have "considerable reserve capacity" and that "journey time reliability may only become compromised much later". This answer is perfectly logical in the sense that an at-grade roundabout will easily be able to cope with the traffic levels anticipated and is the cheapest of the three options. I don't have access to counts of turning traffic at Drumderg so cannot say anything concrete on the matter, but the first point surprises me given that Banbridge (for example) is a significantly larger town than Toome yet is served by compact grade-separated junctions without apparent difficulty. The logic also seems to suggest that the capacity/cost ratio is the deciding factor in these matters. The fact that allowing traffic to flow freely without stopping is a reason in itself to grade separate a junction (quite independently from traffic figures) does not seem to be a factor in the decision, which is very disappointing. I still believe this to be a poor decision which will mar an otherwise excellent scheme for many years to come.

11 Sep 2010: The report presented to Derry City Council back in July contains the following sentence: "Roads Service is currently minded to set the Inspector’s recommendation aside and terminate the Randalstown to Toome dual carriageway in an enlarged roundabout at Drumderg, i.e. implement the proposal examined at the November 2007 public inquiry". In other words, they intend to enlarge Drumderg roundabout but not grade separate it. If true, this is an unbelievable decision. At a time when Roads Service has just completed a £12 million scheme to remove an at-grade roundabout on the A26 at Ballymena, Roads Service now seem intent on creating a similar bottleneck at Toome. I do not often express strong opinions on this site, but if the scheme proceeds with an at-grade roundabout at Toome then I would regard this as one of the worst road-building decisions of the past decade. At junctions such as this where 90%+ of traffic on a major dual-carriageway is continuing straight through, it is madness to leave an at-grade roundabout in place. Such situations exist or existed on the A1 at Hillsborough, the Westlink at Broadway and the A26 at Ballymena, and it has proven time-consuming and expensive to remove them once it has become obvious how many problems they create. If the road is built in this manner, then the Drumderg roundabout will cause a pointless delay for hundreds of thousands of motorists over the coming years before eventually the planners will have to upgrade the junction at a greater cost and disruption than it would have been to do the work at the time. Please Roads Service - do not leave Drumderg at-grade.

18 Aug 2010: In a briefing to Derry City Council in July, Roads Service said that work on the scheme is due to get underway on site "for 2011". However, it follows this with an important caveat that this "will depend on government funding", which is far from certain.

11 July 2010: The Minister was asked in the Assembly three weeks ago for an update on the timetable for this scheme and he replied that Roads Service "plans to make two direction orders later this year to facilitate the construction phase. It is anticipated that work will commence on site in the 2011-12 financial year, subject to the availability of finance at that time." The final caveat, of money, really renders the statement somewhat meaningless since nobody currently knows what finances will be available next year and beyond. Unfortuantely it is not possible for the Minister to be more specific than this, so we will just have to wait and see. He also stated that the project duration would be 24 months.

21 Apr 2010: The estimated cost of the scheme has risen slightly from "£100m" as of 2008, to a new figure of "£100-120m" as of now. Roads Service are reporting that comments and objections from last December's public exhibition have now been received, and that the finalised designs of the junctions are due to be released in "late 2010". There still seems to be uncertainty as to when construction will begin. All Roads Service are now saying is "Availability of finance at that time [late 2010] will determine when the scheme will be built."

7 December 2009: Last week the DRD published their revised plans for the Toome Bypass. You can view maps of the proposed changes on page 2 of this PDF file. The plans are quite extensive and include:

  • Replacement of the Drumderg roundabout with a compact grade separated junction and a bridge over the A6.
  • Removal of the Roguery Road roundabout. Roguery Road on the Toome side will be stopped up. No mention is made of how this will impact on Roads Service's recently constructed weighbridge which is sited here.
  • Access INTO Roguery Road north will be possible only when travelling east on the A6. It will not be possible to join the A6 from Roguery Road north.
  • Roguery Road connected to Drumderg junction partly via a new access road and partly via an upgrade of the existing local road network.
  • Old Bann Road, which currently joins the Toome Bypass at a T-junction will be reduced to eastbound access only. Presumably the two farm accesses will remain in a similar manner.

These proposals are extremely good news for motorists on the A6, and indeed should reduce rat-running through Toome village as well. In addition, the new plans for the Bellshill Road junction have been released. I have updated the strip map above to reflect all these changes. Service has outlined a schedule where construction would begin in 2012 and be completed by 2015. However, they are at pains to point out that this is dependant on funding, something which is far from certain in the current climate. If you wish to comment on the proposals, you will find the contact details and forms at the bottom of this page.

22 November 2009: The DRD is holding a pair of public exhibitions to explain the revised junction proposals (outlined in the previous update). They will be held  as follows:

  • Christchurch Parish Hall, 10 Station Road, Castledawson on Mon, 30 Nov (5pm to 9pm) and Tue, 1 Dec (1pm to 9pm).
  • Toome House, 55 Main Street, Toome on Wed, 2 Dec (5pm to 9pm) and Thu, 3 Dec (1pm to 9pm).

18 November 2009: The DRD officially released their response to the public inquiry on Monday. Not surprisingly, given the general support the scheme received in the inquiry, they have decided to proceed with the scheme. However, they have made a number of minor amendments in response to specific criticism from landowners and other affected parties. You can read about these in the two offical response documents, available here:

In terms of major alterations, the Public Inquiry had suggested that both the Drumderg roundabout, on the existing Toome Bypass, and the Castledawson roundabout, at the western end of the scheme, should be grade-separated (ie, flyovers). Roads Service have decided to make this change to the Drumderg roundabout. Although the DRD document makes no mention of the Roguery Road roundabout, also on the Toome Bypass, the update on 26 April 2009 noted that it too may be removed, meaning that the Toome Bypass may become fully freeflow when this scheme is completed. However, they have rejected the recommendation to grade separate the Castledawson roundabout on the grounds that the roundabout acts as an important reminder to motorists that they are leaving a high quality dual-carriageway and joining an ordinary two-lane road with T-junctions. Meanwhile, in a Written Answer in the Assembly, the Minister confirmed that the scheme is still programmed to begin in 2011/12, but this is of course subject to money being available at the time.

26 April 2009: Last August the inspector's report from the public inquiry was published. This made a number of recommendations, outlined below in the update for 26 August 2008. Roads Service is scheduled to make its reponse to this report in Autumn 2009. However, a clue is given on the last page of the minutes of a Roads Service board meeting held in January 2009. These suggest that the recommendations may be as follows:

  • To accept modifications to Bellshill Road junction and Annaghmore Road bridge. It's not clear whether this will be in line with the inspector's recommendations, but it seems likely.
  • To grade separate the Drumderg roundabout, ie put in a flyover at the easternmost roundabout on the Toome Bypass. This is a major change to the design, and a very welcome one.
  • To remove the Roguery Road roundabout, ie the other existing roundabout on the Toome Bypass. It's not clear how alternative access will be provided here. It may be through the nearby Drumderg roundabout, it may be by a pair of left-in, left-out junctions or it could be via new bridge. This means the Toome Bypass will very likely become fully freeflow.
  • That the Castledawson roundabout should remain at-grade, ie with no flyover. This is not surprising since the A6 on the other side of the roundabout will remain single-carriageway.

I asked Roads Service, via the Freedom of Information Act, for more details on the proposals but it emerged that, since the material is due for publication in the Autumn, it was exempt from the FoI Act. We shall therefore have to wait until the Autumn for the full details!

16 Dec 2008: According to a Stormont Assembly written answer from last week, the estimated cost of the scheme has risen considerably from £70m to £100m. The information also suggests that work may be able to commence in 2011 with completion in 2014, subject to passing the normal processes. In November 2008, Roads Service issued a 4 page leaflet that provides a useful summary of the western part of the scheme, and a corresponding leaflet for the eastern portion. However note that the timescales given on page 4 in each case seems to be wrong by the most recent information. There is also no word on the progress of the revisions of the design of the Castledawson and Drumderg roundabouts (see update on 26 August below). The second leaflet also refers to the terminus of the M22 as "junction 3" which, as far as I am aware, is the first time this point has been given a junction number (until now the M22 has had a junction 1 and a junction 2 only). This may suggest that the new grade separated junction here is going to be signed as "junction 3".

26 Aug 2008: On 18 August, the inspector's report from the public inquiry was published. It recommended proceeding with both parts of the scheme with these modifications: (a) that the layout of the new road at Drumderg (eastern end of the Toome Bypass) should be revised (b) that the pair of junctions at Bellshill Road should be built as a full junction with bridge (c) that the proposed nearby bridge to carry Annaghmore Road over the A6 should therefore be abandoned and (d) that the design of the Castledawson roundabout should be revised, perhaps because this is now also the terminus of the proposed Magherafelt Bypass (see link at top of page). This document gives more details of the proposed changes. The commencement date is now being given as "2011".

28 Apr 2008: The Investment Delivery Strategy for Roads strategy document of April 2008 contains the surprise news that commencement on this scheme, which had been due in "late 2008" has now been pushed back considerably to 2010/11 with completion now not due until 2012/13. This is despite the fact that the public inquiries were held in November. The likely reason is that the promotion of the expensive A5 and A6 schemes has meant that other schemes, like this one, have been delayed.

22 Mar 2008: Public enquiries were held for both halves of this scheme in November, but as yet no report has been published. In the meantime, anyone interested in the scheme should be able to spend a few hours reading through the vast amount of material that Roads Service have made available on their web site (see link at top of this page) relating to the development of the scheme.

8 Oct 2007: According to this press release from September, a public inquiry is now to be held into the scheme. It will take place in November 2007. It is possible that this will push back the start date of this scheme.

19 Apr 2007: According to this page, construction has been pushed back to "late 2008" from the previously advertised "early 2007".

Route Map

Roads Service now have detailed maps on their web site showing the junctions between the M22 and Toome and between Toome and Castledawson. The more general map below was released to the press by the Roads Service in September 2005. It shows the western part of the scheme at the top, and the eastern portion at the bottom. The recently completed Toome Bypass has been added in black. Individual junctions are not shown.





One of the best quality roads on the route, the M22 becomes one of the worst here, where the M22 becomes the A6 to Toome. The new road will continue straight ahead here instead of curving right (see map above). [Picture by Wesley Johnston]

At the other end, the A6 seen here arrives at the Toome Bypass (to left of shot). [Picture by Wesley Johnston]