History of the Scheme
The Belfast Urban Motorway (1960s)
In the 1960’s, plans were developed to provide a Belfast Urban Motorway linking the M1 and M2 motorway approaches to the south and north of the city. The plans proposed the construction of an elevated urban ring road with grade separated junctions and an interchange with the M2 motorway at York Street. Whilst plans continued to advance, with vesting completed for significant portions of the land required by 1971, the onset of civil disturbances in 1971 plagued its further progress to construction.
Review of the Transportation Strategy for Belfast (1974)
By 1974, the financial climate had changed along with the public’s perception of urban motorways. Strong opposition from the newly formed Belfast City Council led to the Department undertaking the Review of the Transportation Strategy for Belfast in 1974, completed on its behalf by Travers Morgan and Partners. The report following the review was published in 1976, with a further public inquiry in 1977. In April 1978, the Department issued a statement which accepted most of the Inspector’s recommendations following the inquiry. This included the scaling back of the scheme to a dual two lane carriageway in each direction, provided in underpasses, with at-grade roundabouts and junctions at Broadway, Grosvenor Road and York Street. Single point interchanges were to be provided at Divis Street and Clifton Street, the only grade separated junctions on the new “Westlink” scheme. The connection between the Westlink and the M2 would therefore remain subject to conflict with local traffic at the signalised York Street junction.
Construction of the M2 Foreshore and Westlink (1973-1983)
Whilst the scheme’s development was continuing, construction of the M2 foreshore link progressed, with the new M2 foreshore motorway opened to traffic in 1973. The Westlink was built between 1979 and 1983.
Construction of the M3 Lagan Bridge and Dargan Railway Bridge (1991-1995)
In the early 1990s, plans were developed to provide a M3 motorway on a bridge between the M2 and East Belfast. The scheme also proposed the extension of the rail line adjoining the motorway on a parallel bridge alignment. The scheme progressed to site, with construction between 1991 and 1995. The Dargan Bridge, carrying the railway line, opened in 1994, with the Lagan Bridge, carrying the M3 motorway, opening in 1995.
The M1/Westlink Improvements (2006-2010)
With the increase in traffic volumes over the years, the at-grade junctions on the Westlink soon became bottlenecks on the Strategic Road Network that the Department for Infrastructure had ambitions to address through its Strategic Road Improvement (SRI) programme. Plans were developed for M1/Westlink Improvements as a SRI delivered under the first Department for Infrastructure Design, Build, Finance and Operate (DBFO) contract, awarded to Highway Management (City) Limited in 2006. These improvements comprised the provision of replacement of the roundabouts at Broadway and Grosvenor Road with new overbridge flyovers. However, these plans subsequently changed after public inquiry, where the local communities expressed concerns with community severance from the proposed overbridge structures, similar to original concerns raised back in 1977. The Department subsequently accepted the recommendations made by the Inspector and changed the scheme significantly to change the proposed flyovers for underpasses. The M1/Westlink Improvements began construction in 2006 and were completed in 2010, leaving the existing York Street junction as the only remaining signalised junction on the Eastern Seaboard Key Transport Corridor.
Preliminary Appraisal Report (2005)
The Department now plans to remove this remaining bottleneck on the route and in 2005, commissioned its consultants URS to carry out a feasibility study to identify short, medium and long-term solutions. The long-term solution proposed the introduction of partial grade separation at the junction and put forward a proposed layout and construction sequence to enable construction whilst keeping the junction open. With the feasibility of the scheme confirmed, the Department decided to continue the development of the scheme and added it to their expanded SRI programme in 2006 under the then title of "Westlink/York Street Flyover".
The scheme was subsequently confirmed in its inclusion in the Investment Delivery Plan for Roads under the Investment Strategy for Northern Ireland 2008-2018 published in March 2008.
Preliminary Options Report (2009) and Preferred Options Report (2012)
The Preliminary Options Report for the scheme was published in March 2009. The report confirmed that the scheme has sufficient economic merit to warrant further progression with four shortlisted options identified for further development. the Department has accordingly continued the development of the four options recommended by the report ahead of selection of a Preferred Option in December 2012, following the publication of the associated Preferred Options Report.
Proposed Scheme Report (2015)
Following the announcement of the Preferred Option in December 2012, the Department and its consultants, AECOM, worked to further refine the layout of the scheme ahead of a Stage 3 Scheme Assessment. This work included the completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment, in accordance with the requirements of the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges.
The Minister for Regional Development announced on 27th January 2015 the publication of the Department's Proposed Scheme Report, including an Environmental Statement and an Engineering, Traffic and Economic Assessment Report, along with a Notice of Intention to Make a Vesting Order (NIMVO) and Notice of Intention to Make a Designation Order (NIMDO). These documents are available to view online via the "Project Documents" section using the link at the top of this page.
Public Inquiry (2015)
Following the close of the associated public consultation period, the Minister announced in March 2015 that a Public Inquiry would be held into the scheme. The Public Inquiry was completed in November 2015 and further details of the information presented at the Inquiry and the Inspector's summary report can be accessed via the "Public Inquiry" section using the link at the top of this page.
Notice to Proceed (2016)
The Department has considered the findings of the appointed Inspector and has published its Notice to Proceed with the scheme. This Notice along with the Departmental Statement in response to the recommendations of the Inspector can be accessed via the "Project Documents" section using the link at the top of this page.