New hard shoulder bus lanes will begin to operate on Northern Ireland's M1 and M2 motorways next Monday (11 March) following the completion of a £4m scheme.
The new lanes to Belfast will operate between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday, and are available to buses and coaches with 28 or more seats when they encounter traffic congestion. A maximum bus lane speed of 40mph will apply.
The scheme also includes variable message signs to advise when the bus lanes are in operation, upgraded CCTV and the introduction of priority signalling for buses at the Fortwilliam and Duncrue Street junctions.
There are now 14.5km of hard shoulder bus lanes operating on the M1 and M2 motorways. The first was opened on the M1 in 1999.
This latest scheme added two new sections of bus lane to the M1 totalling 4.6km between junction 7 (Sprucefield) and junction 6 (Lisburn) and between junction 6 and Lisburn Services (Applegreen).
While on the M2, two new sections of bus lane totalling 2.2km were provided Belfast bound between junction 2 (Greencastle) and junction 1 (Fortwilliam) and between junction 1 and junction 1B (Duncrue St.)
Stephen Pollock from Northern Ireland's Department for Infrastructure said: 'The investment reflects the Department’s policy to assist key bus and Park and Ride services on the M1 and M2 approaches to Belfast, which have become some of the most congested sections of the road network, particularly at peak times.
'Around 1 in 5 of the people heading towards Belfast on the M1 in the morning peak travel by bus and coach. These latest improvements mean passengers commuting by bus from Sprucefield to Belfast city centre can expect to arrive 10 to 15 minutes earlier than those travelling by private car.
'The new lanes on the M2, together with the introduction of priority signalling for buses at Fortwilliam and Duncrue Street will also have a positive impact on journey times for bus passengers approaching Belfast from the north.'
The work to the M1 lanes includes a revised road layout on the approach and exit of the Belfast bound Lisburn Services (Applegreen), with slip roads lengthened to allow buses to continue on the hard shoulder and merge with traffic leaving and re-joining the motorway.
The Department for Infrastructure advised that drivers and motorcyclists using the Lisburn services should 'take extra care as they become familiar with the new layout by checking for buses in the hard shoulder and only merging when it is safe to do so'.
At all times the hard shoulder will remain available for use in an emergency.