The opening of the first dual carriageway running into the heart of County Tyrone is helping overturn decades of under-investment in border areas, it has been claimed.
The £146M A4 route was hailed as a success story for the Assembly. It links up with the M1 motorway to Belfast, replacing an accident blackspot.
Between 1998 and 2008 alone the old Ballygawley Road claimed eight lives and saw 137 people injured in crashes, but transport minister Conor Murphy said the new dual carriageway would improve safety and cut travel times.
First minister Peter Robinson and deputy first minister Martin McGuinness attended the official opening of the route.
“The A4 dual carriageway is the longest ever section of new carriageway constructed in the north,” said Murphy.
“This new 20.5km stretch of dual carriageway, which has opened a month ahead of schedule, represents a significant investment in the infrastructure in the Dungannon area and the West.
“Since taking up office I have been committed to tackling the years of under-investment in the west and to the delivery of balanced regional infrastructure throughout all of the north.”
The Sinn Fein minister added: “The new A4 scheme combined with the recently upgraded Westlink means that you can now drive uninterrupted between Belfast and Ballygawley.
“The scheme will reduce journey times and improve road safety for those travelling east to west, improving access between Belfast and both Enniskillen and Omagh. “
The project included the construction of five flyover-type junctions and 17 new bridges, plus substantial earthworks with 2.4 million cubic metres of material excavated to make way for the new carriageway.
Over 2M man hours were successfully worked on the project, which employed approximately 500 people at the peak of the scheme.
“This project is an example of implementing improvements today to meet tomorrow’s demands and is part of the ongoing strategy of improving the Strategic Road network in the north,” said McGuinness.
“These schemes are addressing the infrastructure deficit that we have suffered for many years, and importantly they are improving access both north to south and east to west.”