A public inquiry into plans to upgrade one of Ireland's most dangerous roads has heard submissions from local authorities on both sides of the border about the economic impact an upgrade to the A5 would have.
The hearing is taking place in Omagh, Co Tyrone to examine a delayed scheme to upgrade the A5 road, part of the main road link between Donegal and Dublin.
At least 47 people have died along the 86 kilometre stretch of road since a plan to upgrade it to a dual carriageway was approved in 2007.
The scheme is backed by all the main political parties in Northern Ireland but has been delayed by a series of legal challenges.
Yesterday, the inquiry heard a plea from campaigners to "end the carnage".
The inquiry has heard that journey times could be reduced by up to 27 minutes each way for journeys the length of the A5 from Aughnacloy in Tyrone to Derry.
Representations were made by local authorities in both Derry and Donegal.
Kevin O'Connor of Derry City and Strabane District Council confirmed its support for the A5 upgrade.
He said that it was "vital" to improve connectivity and "unlock economic potential" of the region.
Mr O’Connor said the area had suffered "severe economic deprivation since the formation of the state", and had the highest rate of unemployment, the lowest median salary and the highest rate of economic inactivity in Northern Ireland.
He said the council had a strategic growth plan to bring those indicators in line with the Northern Ireland average, but that it will not be possible to do that if there is not "proper road connectivity with the main market".
Mr O'Connor told the inquiry that the region was "trying to fight an economic war with one hand tied behind our back".
He said that one of the key markets for Derry and Strabane are on the island of Ireland, but that access to its biggest market is "severely hampered by journey times".
Mr O'Connor said that this hampers the region’s ability to grow.
Garry Martin from Donegal County Council said the A5 is a critical piece of infrastructure and said it would have a positive impact on the economy and tourism for Donegal.
He highlighted the strong cross-border links, with around 6,000 people from Donegal travelling to Northern Ireland to work on a daily basis, and that others travel north and south for healthcare as well.
He said that tourism was critical for Donegal but that "perceptions of travel times and distances reduces our capacity to compete with other parts of the island" and that a "modern and safe route" will strengthen its position.
He the development of the A5 is of "critical importance" to the economic development of Donegal, adding that the council was "anxious to see this project go ahead".
Inquiry hears submissions from businesses
A number of businesses involved in the transport and logistics sector also made submissions before the inquiry today.
Among them, Nick McCullough of ManFreight, based in Portadown.
Advocating for the road upgrade, Mr McCullough said that vehicle delays were the biggest cost to their business.
He said that the new road would mean shorter, safer and less stop-start journeys.
"We are travelling using vehicles up to 44 tonnes in weight so we want to get from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible, but safety is key," he said.
Another haulier said that for the 50 vehicles they have on the road, a journey reduction time of a half an hour would save 50 hours a day and 250 hours a week.
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan said that an "economic handbrake" had been applied to the area and that the A5 would benefit all businesses in the region.
"If we do not properly invest or address the deficit in infrastructure in this part of the island it will hinder any potential investment," he said.
Sinn Féin MP Órfhlaith Begley told the inquiry that the A5 connectivity was needed to bring investors into the area.
"The key to unlocking economic potential in the area is the A5. My appeal as a representative for West Tyrone is that we get that upgrade delivered," she said.
Estimated £1.6bn cost to upgrade A5
The funding of the planned upgrade project was addressed at the hearing this afternoon.
The inquiry heard that the Department of Finance has confirmed it has approved the outline business case for the project.
The cost of upgrading the A5 is now estimated to be £1.6billion.
It is now almost three times higher than when the project was first approved in 2007.
A representative of the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland told the inquiry that the Irish Government had also reaffirmed its commitment to supporting the project.
The inquiry heard that the Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan, in a letter in February 2023, said that the Government "remains committed to supporting this crucial infrastructure" and that his officials will continue to engage on the issue.
It confirmed the Irish Government had committed the equivalent of £25 million to the project this year.
Brendan Hurl, From the Enough is Enough campaign said that the question of funding was a "red herring" and "not an issue".
"Lets get the road built so the cost of the scheme and the death toll doesn't rise any further," he said.
A representative of the Department for Infrastructure told the inquiry they were "very confident" that the scheme could be built by 2028.