A CALL has been made for the motorway at Ballymena to be reclassified as a dual-carriageway to allow tractors easier access to a livestock market.
Councillors at a meeting in the town unanimously supported a proposal from Bannside DUP councillor Thomas Gordon to write to the Department for Infrastructure.
The move follows reports that tractor drivers have to negotiate a “nightmare” junction at the moment to leave the A26 road to avoid the M2 Ballymena by-pass.
Last year a farmer was given three penalty points and a £200 fine when he pleaded guilty to a charge of ‘driving a classified vehicle on a special road’ after he was detected on the Ballymena motorway in a tractor.
Last month the Ulster Farmers’ Union said it was concerned over agricultural restrictions on the Ballymena By-Pass.
At a meeting of Mid & East Antrim Borough Council in Ballymena this week it was unanimously agreed to write to the Department for Infrastructure.
A proposal by Cllr Gordon said: “That this Council supports the efforts of the farming community and the Ulster Farmers’ Union in their bid to secure the reclassification of the stretch of motorway from Teeshan to Larne Road roundabout to dual carriageway; in the interests of road safety, by writing to the Department of Infrastructure.”
Cllr Gordon said in the mid-60s it was decided to build a by-pass around Ballymena to take through traffic out of the town and a stretch of the M2 Motorway was built from the Larne Road Roundabout to Teeshan in 1969.
He said the initial plan was to have a motorway all the way from Belfast to the north Antrim coast “but as we all know that never happened and still hasn’t happened”.
Cllr Gordon told the meeting a further section of the A26 was constructed as a dual-carriageway from Teeshan to Glarryford in 1975 and other parts of the road were subsequently upgraded as dual-carriageways.
“So we have the construction of six stages of dual-carriageway all the way from Dunsilly to the Drones Road Roundabout – 24 miles – except for a small section in the middle from Teeshan to the Larne Road Roundabout as motorway which is four miles long.
“This small section creates serious problems for the farming community and agricultural contractors because tractors are not allowed on a motorway.
“Tractors coming from the Glarryford direction travel up the inside lane of the dual-carriageway but as they approach Teeshan these slow moving vehicles have to move out to the fast lane, where speeds at and over 70mph occur, in order to exit the road and take a detour on roads which the bypass was designed to keep them off.
“This is a most dangerous manoeuvre for slow moving agricultural machinery, exiting the dual-carriageway and there are grave road safety concerns.
“Likewise, tractors and agricultural machinery have to move off the Ballee Road East dual-carriageway onto the slip road onto the Larne Road Roundabout and travel through the town in order to get to Ballymena Livestock Market and other businesses which specialise in farm, equipment and supplies.”
He said he followed a tractor and a livestock trailer from the Seven Towers Roundabout and it passed through the town including close to St Louis Grammar School – “where many schoolchildren were congregating on the footpaths” – and past two more schools on the Broughshane Road.
The councillor said the livestock market was previously situated where the Fairhill Shopping Centre is now in Ballymena and it was then held in Cullybackey and Ballyclare but is now in the Woodside Road Industrial Estate in Ballymena.
“Therefore, I call on the Minister for the Department of Infrastructure to re-classify this section of roadway from motorway to dual-carriageway in the interests of road safety which will also lessen the inconvenience to the local farming community and local agricultural contractors and also lessen traffic volumes on our roads and streets in and around the town.”
Cllr Gordon said perhaps using the hard shoulder on the by-pass as a “crawler lane” would be one way forward.
Seconding the motion, DUP Councillor William McCaughey said he had been contacted by a number of farmers about the matter.
He said the motorway was a “needless barrier” for the farming community prohibiting access from one side of the town to the other.
The councillor said he could “only feel sympathy for” the tractor driver who was fined and given penalty points for using a tractor on the motorway.
Cllr McCaughey called on councillors to encourage roads chiefs “to apply some degree of logic and commonsense” and re-grade the short stretch of motorway “sitting needlessly in the middle of 24 miles of excellent and well-utilised dual-carriageway”.
Cllr Eugene Reid (SDLP) said farmers should be allowed to have easier access to the livestock market.
He said at “silage time and at slurry time” agricultural contractors travelled along roads like the Grove Road in Ballymena “at all hours of the night” in large numbers which he felt was a “health and safety issue”.
Alderman William McNeilly (Ulster Unionist) said he was a farmer and had been contacted by the Ulster Farmers’ Union.
The councillor said a farmer told him it was a “nightmare” to cross onto the fast lane at Teeshan.
He said farm machinery was maybe twice the size and length of twenty years ago and “something has to be done”.
Alderman Paul Reid (DUP) said “some of the tractors are actually quite fast moving now”.
He added: “We are not talking about a 15mph vehicle any longer.”
He said some tractors are now moving at 35-40mph.
Cllr Paul Reid added: “We have to do everything in our power to support our local industries and that includes the rural industries as well. And we as a Council must champion their causes as well.”