Roads enthusiast Wesley Johnston spoke to Adam Morton about his passion for road networks and his Northern Ireland roads website.
A decade ago Wesley Johnston launched the Northern Ireland Roads Site. The website aims to collate all publicly available information about developments in Northern Ireland’s road network in one place, using language that can be understood by everybody.
There is no doubt his work has proven to be a useful resource for many in Northern Ireland at one time or another, whether it’s checking on the latest road developments delaying your journey to work or reading up on works that may be planned near your home, but just how did Johnston discover his passion for roads?
“My interest in roads developed out of my childhood interest in maps,” said Johnston. “If you spend any time looking at maps of Northern Ireland you’ll notice a lot of strange things about our road network like the splitting of the outer ring at Belvoir and the bit of the M2 at Ballymena that is not joined to the rest of the M2. My father, Alan Johnston, was a transport enthusiast and knew a lot about Irish railways so I suppose I have simply followed in his footsteps.”
As for the state of Northern Ireland’s road network, it is Johnston’s belief that in global terms we have a very good road network, but when comparing our roads with countries closer to home, especially the Republic of Ireland, we have a lot of work to do.
“The new roads that we build are of a very high standard but we are lagging behind in dual carriageway standards. We have the same design and standards of new roads as England, Scotland and Wales so the new roads we build are usually very good. It’s just upgrading the roads we have that we are not so good at.”
According to Johnston, the roads connecting Northern Ireland’s two biggest cities, Belfast and Derry, need major improvement and he is pleased to see that the A6 scheme will go ahead as soon as funding is allocated. The other scheme Johnston feels is vital is the upgrade to the York Street interchange. Currently this set of traffic lights connects the three busiest roads in Northern Ireland (M1, M2 and Westlink). The proposed scheme will create a series of flyovers and underpasses that will, in Johnston’s view, improve traffic flow by taking long distance traffic off the local road network at York Street.
Clearly, the website is Johnston’s passion but he also takes great pride in using his knowledge to help other people: “Very occasionally, someone will contact me concerned about a project near where they live and I have been able to point them in the direction of the appropriate person at the Department for Regional Development, it’s great to be able to help people like that,” he said.