Editorial: Removing dangerous gap junctions on the A1 road should be a top safety priority

Morning View (Photo: gina)
Morning View (Photo: gina)

​On the previous page (of the print edition) we report on the death of Karle Heaney on the A1. His mother Monica believes that Karl, who was 27, would not have died if safety upgrade measures had been in place on the Co Down stretch of road on which he was killed in 2018.

This is a tragic saga that seems to illustrate the problems with so-called gap junctions, a 1970s style of dual carriageway in which there are gaps in the central reservation through which vehicles can make a right turn across fast traffic on one side of the carriageway.

The junctions in fact emerged in the 1950s and were, understandably, seen as a cheaper way to build dual carriageways than having to construct junctions that involved bridges or flyovers. It was thought better to have a dual carriageway with a cheap gap junction than a single carriageway, in which cars overtake in the face of oncoming traffic. This is correct – such dual carriageways are safer than single carriageways, which are deadly on busy intercity roads. But gap junction dual carriageways are hopelessly dated on major routes now. Traffic that thinks it is on an expressway (in which there are no crossings of the central reservation) finds that in fact it has to deal with vehicles passing in front of it like darts. There was another element to the Heaney crash involving confusion and uncut grass (itself a sometimes deadly feature of road junctions), and the vehicles that struck Heaney were travelling in the wrong direction. But this sort of error would be less likely (albeit not impossible) on a road in which gaps were closed.

Gap junctions south of Hillsborough were first mooted to be removed almost 20 years ago but such work has been shelved due to cost. Such junctions would never have been built in the first place if the excellent 1960s Stormont motorway plans had come to fruition. Removing A1 gaps should be a high priority.