M2 / M22 Motorway

excluding Ballymena Bypass

Route

North, then west from M3, Belfast via Antrim and as far as the western side of Randalstown.

Joins

A12 Westlink

M3 motorway

M5 motorway

A8(M) motorway

Length

35.9 km / 22.5 miles

(27.1 km / 16.8 miles for main portion of the M2, 8.8 km / 5.5 miles for M22)

Width 5+5 lanes from J1A to J2, 3+3 from J2 to J4, 2+2 thereafter
Opened In stages from 1966 to 1975
Cost

£25m (£213.1m in 2005 prices)

See Also

M2 on CBRD

Network map on this site

History of motorways on this site

The M2 is the second of Northern Ireland's "major" motorways, with work beginning four years later than the M1, but is by far the busiest road in the province. Running north out of Belfast as far as Antrim it feeds in all traffic from the north and north west. At Antrim the motorway adopts the number M22 and continues to the west side of Randalstown. (For historical reasons detailed below, the M2 number is also applied to the Ballymena Bypass about 10 miles to the north of where the main section ends). Unlike the M1, which visits 4 of our 6 counties, the M2 / M22 is entirely within County Antrim. Note: This site treats the main section of the M2 and the M22 together but treats the M2 Ballymena Bypass separately as this is how they are viewed by most road users.

Junction Map | Construction Timeline | Route Description | History

Traffic Data | Future Plans | Records | The Hill Section | Photographs

Junction Map


SOUTH EAST

Begins as M3, BELFAST

.

M2 j1A.

YORK STREET, BELFAST

2 lanes dropped

Duncrue Street

(and to A12 Westlink)

3 lanes gained

York Street

(and from A12 Westlink)


0.8 km / 0.5 miles - 4+5 lanes

M2 j1B.

DUNCRUE STREET, BELFAST or THE DOCKS

lane drop

Duncrue Street (docks south)

No access

1.8 km / 1.1 miles - 5+5 lanes

M2 j1.

FORTWILLIAM, BELFAST

lane gain

Dargan Road (docks north)

lane drop

lane drop

A2 Shore Road

lane gain


2.0 km / 1.3 miles - 5+5 lanes

M2 j2.

GREENCASTLE, BELFAST

M5 motorway 2 lanes gained

A2 Shore Road


M5 motorway 2 lanes dropped

A2 Shore Road


5.5 km / 3.4 miles - 3+3 lanes

Eastbound hard shoulder bus lane on western 1.5 km / 1.0 miles

M2 j4.

SANDYKNOWES, GLENGORMLEY

lane gain

A6 Antrim Toad


B90 Ballyhenry Road

A8(M) motorway (to Larne)


lane drop

Scullions Road (to Mallusk)

A6 Antrim Road

.


6.8 km  / 4.3 miles - 2+2 lanes

Eastbound hard shoulder bus lane on eastern 2.3 km / 1.4 miles

M2 j5.

TEMPLEPATRICK

A57 Templepatrick Road

(to Ballyclare)

A57 Templepatrick Road

(to Templepatrick)


6.0 km / 3.8 miles - 2+2 lanes

M2 j6.

RATHBEG, ANTRIM

Rathbeg Road
B95 Greystone Road

2.4 km / 1.5 miles - 2+2 lanes

M2 j7.

CROSSKENNAN, ANTRIM

Glenmullion Road

Niblock Road

.

Antrim Area Hospital

Bush Road

Niblock Road


3.4 km / 2.1 miles - 2+2 lanes

Road is redesignated M22 approx 1km west of j7

M22 j1.

DUNSILLY, ANTRIM

A26 Lisnevevnagh Road

(to Ballymena)

A26 Ballymena Road

(to Antrim)


4.0 km / 2.5 miles - 2+2 lanes

M22 j2.

BALLYGROOBY, RANDALSTOWN

A6 Castle Road

(to Randalstown)

A6 Castle Road

(to Antrim)


3.2 km / 2.0 miles - 2+2 lanes

M22 j3*

ARTRESNAHAN

A6 Moneynick Road

(to Randalstown)

 
 

NORTH WEST

Terminates as A6 Moneynick Road towards Derry/Londonderry

*it is not clear whether the Artresnahan terminus has a junction number. It does not have a junction number when it appears on Ordnance Survey maps.

Construction Timeline

J2 to J4 (Greencastle to Sandyknowes) 24 Oct 1966
J10 to J12 (Ballymena Bypass) 26 Apr 1969
M2 @ Paradise Walk* to M22 J2 (Templepatrick to Ballygrooby) 26 Feb 1971
M22 J2 to J3 (Ballygrooby to Artresnahan) 30 Jan 1973
J1A to J2 (Belfast York Street to Greencastle) 22 May 1973
J4 to Paradise Walk* (Sandyknowes to Templepatrick) 4 Sep 1975
J7 added (Crosskennan) offslips only 1 Oct 1993
J7 (Crosskennan) onslips added 29 Jun 2007
Widening to 3+3 lanes through J2 and as far as J4 9 May 2009
*Paradise Walk was a temporary terminus between M2 j5 and j6, approximately 2km west of the modern j5.

Route Description

Starting at Belfast, the M2 begins at a major fork where the 2 lanes of the M3 motorway meet 3 lanes coming up from the A12 Westlink. Together they travel along the wide, flat foreshore section, passing beneath the enormous Fortwilliam roundabout (j1) which, along with the nearby footbridge, are the longest bridges over a motorway in Northern Ireland. This section is only a few feet above sea level. At the northen end, Greencastle (j2), the route drops 2 lanes to the M5 and the M2 continues round a very tight left-hand bend and launches itself up the famous "hill section". With the exception of a short stretch of the M90 in Scotland, this is the UK's steepest motorway section with a maximum gradient of 1 in 15. A crawler lane appears on the left for the hill. Half way up we pass beneath the Bellevue Bridge (Antrim Road) which, at over 60 degrees, is one of the most oblique road bridges in Ireland, and is home to the famous Bellevue Arms which narrowly avoided demolition at the time it was built. The Antrim Road was the site of the unbuilt junction 3 included in original plans but probably omitted for a combination of traffic flow and safety reasons (the south facing slips would have been dangerously steep). At the summit the M2 reaches 140 metres above sea level, its highest point. This is the Glengormley "pass", the lowest point in the Belfast Hills that surround Belfast on the north west. Here we meet junction 4, Sandyknowes, named after a house that was demolished to make way for it. It is one of the most notorious junctions in Northern Ireland, and 30% of the Belfast-bound traffic on the M2 join here.

After this we leave the urban area and pass along another long, flat section. Look out on the left for a mobile phone mast disguised as a tree! Shortly the motorway arrives at junction 5, Templepatrick. The road bridge here along with the adjacent railway bridge were all built wide enough for the motorway to be widened to 3+3 lanes. Just west of Templepatrick, before the Parkgate bridge, look out on the left for the overgrow and disused road known as Paradise Walk. This road was the temporary access to the M2 before the J4-J5 section was built. The road next bridges the Six Mile Water and then runs past Donegore, with a cornucopia of historic relics including stone and bronze age monoliths and a Norman motte. Donegore footbridge with its spiral steps allows people to cross the motorway at this site. Next, the M2 reaches Rathbeg (J6) which is the main access to Antrim from the east (and the only major B-classified dual-carriageway in Northern Ireland). After a relatively short period the M2 meets junction 7, a 1990s addition, which gives access to Antrim Area Hospital, one of the province's 6 main acute hospitals. Immediately after this the carriageways split and remain apart for over 2km. Look out on the right for an area of tarmac that would have carried the M2 to the north and towards Ballymena. At this point the M2 becomes the M22 - and this was officially confirmed by Roads Service in late 2009.

The motorway next meets Dunsilly (M22 J1). This is a busy key junction as it is not only the main northerly access to Antrim, but also the point where the arterial A26 road north to Ballymena, Ballymoney and Coleraine leaves the route. The motorway continues west to Ballygrooby (J2) which is the easterly access to Randalstown and the main access to Antrim from the west. The bridges here are set at about 45 degrees to the motorway to meet the geometry of the A6 which it meets. After this, the M22 heads west and crosses the River Main flood plain on what is a very under-appreciated viaduct. It then flows onto the single-carriageway A6 at Artreshnahan (J3) which is the main access to Randalstown from the west.

History

Original Plans

Like the M1, the M2 was born out of a plan announced by the Northern Ireland government in 1946 to improve the deteriorating traffic problems in Belfast by constructing a set of three "approach roads" to speed motorists from the areas around the city into the centre. The North Approach was planned to run parallel to the Antrim Road as far as Glengormley. (Glengormley occupies the pass at the lowest point in the Belfast Hills and is the only viable route to the inland area of county Antrim). No work took place, although the planned route was extended in 1952 as far as the village of Doagh, a further ten miles to the north west, and in 1956 as far as Ballymena in the centre of the county.

Design work really started to get underway at this time. The route of the North Approach from the shore at Greencastle in North Belfast to Glengormley was finally settled. It would run from the Shore Road at Greencastle parallel to the Whitewell Road, pass under the Antrim Road at Bellevue up to the top of the hill and then run on the level as far as Mallusk, where the main road to Larne harbour diverged. Since the whole shore of Belfast Lough from Greencastle to the city centre (about 5km) was already built up, planners were at a loss to find a route and did not plan the motorway any closer than Greencastle. Contractors constructed the four bridges that were required to pass over the hill section in 1957, designed to cross a 2+2 dual-carriageway with hard shoulders. At the early stages, the North Approach was not being planned as a motorway but the plan became one in the same year and was designated the "M2". In 1958 planners selected a route from Glengormley to Ballymena via Doagh, and also proposed a spur west to Antrim town.

Construction

After a wait of five years, work finally began on the hill section of the M2 in 1963. Noting that the gradient would reach 1 in 15 at one point, the designers added a third crawler lane on the uphill section, although the new design meant that the hard shoulders would have to stop at the already-constructed bridges. In the same year, engineers exploring the route to Ballymena found that the terrain around Doagh and particularly on to Ballymena was too difficult to build a motorway. The route was revised to run west to Antrim town, and then turn north to Ballymena.

In 1964 the government announced a further extension of the motorway system, and the proposed M2 was extended as far as Coleraine via Ballymoney. Four spurs from the M2 were planned - the M5 to Whiteabbey, the M21 from Antrim to Aldergrove airport, the M22 from Antrim to Castledawson and the M23 from Ballymoney to Londonderry. After objections to the scale of these plans from London, designers agree to slow the pace of motorway building. In 1965, planners finally agreed on how to extend the M2 from Greencastle to the city centre. It would be achieved by infilling the muddy western foreshore of Belfast Lough with stones and constructing the motorway on the seaward side of the existing developments. The M2 hill section (J2 to J4) finally opened in 1966, the first part of the M2 to open. Traffic joined the M2 from the Shore Road and left it at the new Sandyknowes roundabout near Mallusk. A short link road - the A8(M) connected Sandyknowes to the main Larne road.

Following the agreement to slow works, a change in policy affected the M2. Instead of building sections out sequentially from Belfast, the sections most urgently required would be constructed first and then the blanks filled in later. For this reason, work began in 1966 on the foreshore section and the Ballymena Bypass section. Two years later work began on the Antrim Bypass section of the M2 (from Templepatrick to Dunsilly) and the first 40% of the M22 (from there to Artresnahan, east of Randalstown). The Ballymena Bypass (J10-J12) became the second section to open in 1969, with the Antrim Bypass (J5 to and including M22 as far as Ballygrooby) opening in 1971 (technically the section began at a temporary access off Paradise Walk, just west of where J5 now is). Between junction 6 and the M22 the carriageways diverge for about 2.5km which was to be part of the enormous M2/M22 diverge. The next section of the M22, the Randalstown Bypass (J2-J3), opened in 1973 and included a spectacular bridge over the River Maine that is rarely appreciated today due to the lack of a good vantage point.

Now that all the bypass sections were either complete or almost complete, work began on the blanks. The first was the Glengormley to Templepatrick section (J4 to J5) which began in 1972. Work on the 10-lane foreshore was on an enormous scale and so this section (J1A-J2) did not open until 1973. When it did, it was the widest motorway in the UK, a record it retained until the 1990s. Space was left at the northern end for the proposed M5 to Whiteabbey. The foreshore section originally began at Duncrue Street (currently junction 1B) but the motorway was extended 800 metres further south, probably in the early 1980s, to meet the A12 Westlink which connected it to the M1. In 1975 the J4-J5 section opened to traffic. Unlike previous motorway sections, this part was built with bridges and cuttings wide enough to allow future widening to 3+3 lanes.

In 1975 however, as the civil disturbances intensified, London abolished the Northern Ireland Parliament and took over direct rule of the province. Ministers immediately cancelled the entire motorway project, including the M2, before the Antrim to Ballymena section could begin, and before any work began beyond Ballymena. This meant that the M2 flowed directly and seamlessly onto the M22 at Antrim rather than forking into two routes north of Antrim as intended (hence why the M22 is grouped with the M2 on this web site). No work took place on the M2 for the next 18 years, although the M5 spur was added in 1980.

Later Additions and Changes

In 1993 a new partial-access junction (J7) was added to give access to Antrim Area Hospital, and this junction was upgraded to full-access in 2007. Although the junction is referred to by the Roads Service as "Crosskennan" it is actually in the townland of Bush – Crosskennan is about half a mile to the east. The hill section was upgraded to 3+3 lanes, opening in summer 2009. This included widening the M2 to three lanes through junction 2 by removing the hard shoulder. It is very unlikely that any parts of the unbuilt M2 will now be built since the A26 between Antrim and Ballymena has how been dualled. The M22 has flowed directly onto the single-carriageway Moneynick Road at its temporary terminus at Artresnahan since 1971. A scheme to construct a dual-carriageway along the route of the proposed M22 to Castledawson is in planning at the time of writing (2010).

Traffic Data

Traffic levels on selected sections of the M2

Location Vehicles / Day Year and Source of Data
Beneath J1 97210

2006. Belfast City Council Updating and Screening Assessment

J2-J4 71536 2006. Newtownabbey Council Updating and Screening Assessment
J4-J5 42410 2004. Belfast City Council Updating and Screening Assessment
J5-J6 43867 2005. Antrim Borough Council air quality assessment
J6-M22 J1 39074 2005. Antrim Borough Council air quality assessment
M22 J2-J3 20055 2005. Antrim Borough Council air quality assessment

Future Plans

There are short term plans (up to 2018) to alter the layout of Sandyknowes roundabout (junction 4) to give greater priority to M2<->A8(M) movements. There are also long term plans (post 2018) to build a new junction about a mile further west than Sandyknowes to separate through traffic and local traffic movements at this critical junction. Roads Service are planning to construct flyovers directly connecting the M2 to the A12 Westlink in Belfast, and this is currently planned to take place within ten years (as of 2010).

Records

The M2 motorway has been the proud holder of a number of UK-wide records:

  1. When it was opened to traffic on 22 May 1973, the M2 foreshore from junction 1A to J2 was the widest motorway in the British Isles with two 10 lane sections. It no longer holds this record.
  2. Except for a very short section of the M90 in Scotland, the M2 hill section from J2 to J4 is the steepest in the UK with a maximum gradient of 1 in 15.
  3. M2 junction 1B is the only motorway junction in the UK which has a single offslip and no onslips.
  4. When built, M2 J10 (on the Ballymena Bypass) was the largest roundabout in the UK with a circumference of 890 metres. This record is now held by the M4 J32 roundabout in Wales.

The Hill Section

The "hill section" between junctions 2 and 4 is the second steepest section of motorway anywhere in the UK (the terminus of the M90 in Scotland is the steepest). Over a distance of the 4.6km from junction 2 to the summit point the motorway rises vertically by 135 metres, an average gradient of 1 in 34. UK motorway construction guidelines give a maximum gradient of 1 in 25, with 1 in 20 permissible over short stretches where terrain makes it unavoidable. The hill section appears to pass this - until you look at the gradient curve as shown here:

As you can see the gradient is very uneven, and is at its steepest between the Arthur and Collin Bridges. These two landmarks are 1.95km apart with a vertical difference of approximately 86 metres, giving a gradient of 1 in 23. Even more specifically, if we look at the stretch between Bellevue and Collin Bridges the gradient is even steeper. Over 350 metres the road rises 23 metres, a gradient of 1 in 15. This is so steep that designers thankfully added a crawler lane to the plans. Today you can see lorries going as slowly as 15-20mph along the M2 at this point and I have been on a bus doing 30mph.

Photographs

The M2 begins in the docks area of north Belfast. Here the section between junctions 1A and 1 crosses Brougham Street on a very wide bridge. (The closest bridge here is a railway bridge). [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

The ten-lane foreshore section, here seen heading south and approaching junction 1B. The overhead gantries were added around 2000. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

The ten-lane foreshore section of the M2 between junctions 1B and 1 seen from the air illustrates the urban nature of the motorway at this point. [Image from Google Earth]

A slightly shaky shot looking north at junction 2, showing the M2 swinging left and the M5 heading straight on towards Carrickfergus. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

 

The M2 passes through Greencastle village - literally - with the bridges visible on the right and the northbound onslip on the left. The village is now a shadow of what it was. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

Virtual view of the M2 hill section climbing from junction 2 at Greencastle (bottom) up towards junction 4. The M5 runs along the shore to the right. [Image from Google Earth]

The M2 approachign junction 4, where the climbing lane on the uphill carriageway is dropped off. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

Sandyknowes roundabout (junction 4) in Glengormley which is one of the worst traffic blackspots in Northern Ireland. There are both short term and long terms plans for this junction. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

When the Antrim bypass section opened in 1971 access to its eastern end was via Paradise Walk, a rural road that was upgraded for the task. This section of Paradise Walk was abandoned when the Glengormley to Antrim section was opened in 1975 and is here seen in remarkably good condition after 30 years, in 2005. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

Looking west from junction 7 at Crosskennan. The carriageways split here - this would have been the M2 / M22 split had the motorway been completed. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

The split in the M2 is very evident from the air. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

Parked on the hard shoulder of the eastbound M2, in the split carriageway section seen above, this is the view back towards the ghost carriageway of the M2 that would have come from Ballymena, but was never built. [Photo by Wesley Johnston, 2006]

Looking east along the M2 from junction 1 of the M22 this is another view the split in the carriageways. Note the "M2" sign on the left confirming that this is where the M2 officially begins. [Photo by Aubrey Dale]

The M22 looking east from junction 2 (Ballygrooby) in August 2006. [Photo by Aubrey Dale]

The M22 terminates here, at junction 3. The road narrows to one lane and immediately there is a T-junction. This is due to be upgraded to dual-carriageway by 2010. [Photo by Wesley Johnston]

 

 
           
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