Shock road closures cause chaos – and it’s going to happen again

ROAD CLOSURES

Translink axes buses after diversions make three-mile route 20 miles long

By Iain Gray

SURPRISE road closures caused chaos around Bangor last weekend – and it’s set to happen again this weekend too.

Drivers were shocked to find major arterial routes in the city sealed off for work connected to a repair job that finished in mid-April, sending people trawling around suburban Bangor desperately trying to find a way onto the main road.

Meanwhile Translink was forced to heavily cut back its bus schedule as a normal three-mile journey from Bangor to Groomsport was turned into a 20-mile round trip by circuitous diversions.

And A2 traffic between Donaghadee and Bangor was diverted onto a narrow country road, causing severe delays as queues of motorists were forced to dodge heavy farm vehicles that normally use the route.

The whole thing happened on the same weekend that UK-wide pipe band championships were held in Bangor, massively increasing demand on the city’s roads.

And officials want to do it all over again over the next few days, when it will coincide with a Bank Holiday weekend that marks the traditional start of the summer season and regularly sees large numbers of day-trippers head to the North Down coast.

In fact, the closures of several main roads around Bangor and Groomsport are set to stretch on for a fortnight.

One local MLA lays the blame for the chaos at the door of roads bosses in Stormont’s Department for Infrastructure (DfI), accusing them of blundering over the time of the closures and the diversion routes – and claiming they failed to properly notify locals the work was even happening.

DfI officials insist that the road closures were necessary and diversions had to be used, though they didn’t address any of the specific issues raised about their planning and execution of last weekend’s work.

The closures affect roads around Bangor’s Groomsport Road roundabout, which earlier this year saw a £460,000 repair job – one that was itself controversial, as it was arranged at short notice by the DfI and many locals believed the cash would have been better spent on other parts of North Down that are in a much worse state.

Both last weekend’s closures and this weekend’s are to resurface parts of roads that lead to the roundabout, which includes Bangor’s dual carriageway ring road, routes connecting Groomsport with the city, and Groomsport Road itself.

North Down MLA Alan Chambers condemned the way the closures have been carried out, accusing DfI officials of botching their plans and leaving locals hopping mad in the process.

He also questions why the resurfacing wasn’t done around the time of the roundabout repair work, instead of waiting a month so that it bashes up against major tourist draws.

“The operation to handle the road closures was badly planned, possibly by officials looking at road maps as opposed to having any local knowledge of the area,” he said, adding notification was so bad that he saw motorists in the Towerview part of Bangor carrying out regular U-turns as there weren’t signs warning road closures were ahead of them.

Said the UUP MLA: “All A2 traffic between Groomsport, Donaghadee and Bangor was being diverted onto the narrow rural Springwell Road, including buses. There was a constant lengthy tailback for most of the day.

“The situation on Springwell Road was exacerbated by the local farming community taking advantage of the good weather [to carry out essential work with heavy vehicles]. I am sure that the mayhem on this narrow country road was the last thing the farmers needed.

“There was considerable local outrage at what many described as shambolic planning by the department.

“There is huge local concern that this incoming Bank Holiday weekend is going to be disrupted by another closure of roads around the roundabout.”

Mr Chambers said that he wants to see this weekend’s planned roundabout closure postponed to a later date, but added: “I am not holding my breath.”

The DfI insisted the roundabout work was necessary as it was showing ‘early signs of structural failure’, which made it ‘an essential infrastructure scheme for Bangor.

“Programmed schemes invariably use adjacent roads as diversion routes due to the location of the work,” said a spokesman. “The department would encourage the public to use the official diverted route to minimise disruption.

“Each resurfacing scheme is planned to ensure work and traffic management arrangements minimise inconvenience for all. However, road users are always advised to allow additional time when travelling in the vicinity of works.

“The department would like to thank residents, local businesses and commuters for their patience whilst this essential work is carried out, which is anticipated to finish by the end of June.”