North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey has called upon the Regional Development Minister Danny Kennedy to prioritise the upgrade of the A26 road.
He was speaking after participating in a debate which he secured within the Assembly highlighting the road safety problems on the current road and the long campaign which has been fought to secure improvements.
Mr Storey said: “The A26 is one of the key transport corridors in Northern Ireland, and the main route through the North Antrim constituency leading to one of our key tourist destinations on the north coast.
“The main focus is on the 7km section of road between Glarryford and the Drones Road which includes the famous Frosses trees. The upgrade of the road would have a huge impact upon tourism, business and the very many commuters who use the road on a daily basis.
“However, this road has witnessed many tragic accidents over the years with over twenty people losing their lives over the last two decades. Any debate on this road must have every single one of those families who have suffered such a huge loss at the centre of its thoughts and as its prime focus.
“For too long there have been plans for an upgrade of this road but it has been talk and process to date, with no real delivery or progress on the ground.
“A preferred route was announced for the dualling of this section in August 2008 but there are problems which still exist with this scheme with an inadequate provision of underpass facilities so that farmers can move animals and machinery across land which would be affected by an upgrade. “My colleagues and I warmly welcomed the announcement in 2008 as it indicated that road safety in this area was a priority but three years on no work has yet commenced on the ground.
“Over the last two decades of campaigning to upgrade this road the focus from successive Direct Rule Ministers was economics of the project but with every day which passes the costs of carrying this work out increases steadily.
“There can be no doubt however that if the widening of this stretch of road could save one life and prevent another tragedy from occurring then the investment would have been entirely and completely justified. This is an issue which has been highlighted directly to me from the new Minister when he confirmed that no construction work would commence before 2014-15.
“There has been a strong focus on the proposed improvements to the A8 and A5, with the A5 proposal causing considerable controversy. I have urged the Minister in light of this to look at the relative merits of all these projects alongside that of the A26 and to divert whatever funds are available towards the much needed improvement of the A26.
“I would hope that the new DRD Minister will look again at the priorities within his Department and that we might see some speedy progress on an improvement to this key road which runs through the heart of north Antrim,” said Mr Storey.