When Chambers was working on the selection of a line for the North Approach Road in the mid 1940s one of his main considerations was that the new road should avoid the geology of the slip at the Throne bends where damage to the Antrim Road carriageway occurred repeatedly. He proposed that the new road should be taken under the Antrim Road at a point just below the Bellevue Arms. The original proposal ran from the Shore Road near the Whitewell Road junction to Sandyknowes, beyond Glengormley, with a spur over the hill to Corr's Corner on the road to Larne.
The choice of route for the extension towards the city remained a problem until 1965 when Bailie Russell produced a scheme for the construction of a wide embankment on the sea side of the railway between Greencastle and Duncrue Street.
The original Duncan/Chambers idea for the outwards extension of the North Approach Road was that it should run north-westwards from Corr's Corner, past Doagh, roughly parallel to B59 and finish on the A36 Larne Road south east of Ballymena. There would be a possibility of an extension which would by-pass Ballymena on the Eastern side and end on the T7/A26 road North of Ballymena. Later it was suggested that there should be a spur towards Antrim running along the northern side of the Sixmilewater valley. By April/May 1958 McCormick had selected these routes with the help of aerial photographs and a stereo viewer. It was not until December 1963 that the present route for the M2 was chosen following discussions with the new Assistant Secretary, J F (John) Irvine, and the new Minister, William Craig. It ran north-westwards from Sandyknowes (rather than Corrs Corner), past Antrim on the North East side, northwards towards Ballymena, by-passed Ballymena on the eastern side and finished at Teeshan on the T7/A26 north of Ballymena. This route was more economical and had less severe gradients.
In 1956-1957 some early construction was put in hand on the North Approach Road - a road diversion and bridge at Longlands off the Whitewell Road and two bridges over the MZ line at Collinbridge and Hightown Roads. The Collin and Hightown bridges were built in pits before the motorway earthworks were done. They were constructed in 1957 by White and Farrans respectively. The road works at Longlands were done by Irish Roads and the bridge by White. A Designation Order had been made in 1954.
On 2 September 1963 work was also started on the 4.5 miles portion of the North Approach Road (M2) and A8(M), between the Shore Road and Corr's Corner. The detail design and preparation of the contract (C 301) was done by Works Division of Ministry of Finance.
The contract was carried out by Thomas Lowe and Sons and the remaining bridges were built by Cubar. Shortly before the contract was let it was decided that a crawler lane should be added on the uphill outward carriageway between the Shore Road and Sandyknowes where in places the gradient exceeds 5%. The temporary connection outwards is now the on slip road from the A2 Shore Road at Greencastle and the temporary connection inwards is now the off slip loop road to the inbound Shore Road. The main structures at the Greencastle Junction were added later as part of the contract for the Foreshore section.
The main problem on this section was the design of the bridge which carries the Antrim Road over the motorway at a severe skew angle of about 62°. There were many suggestions as to how the design might be done. The design which went to contract was produced by Clements - a prestressed voided slab with the main prestress running at a reduced skew. The slab was made lighter by building in steel drums called Sonovoids. Another complication was the proximity of the Bellevue Arms Hotel where excavation for the abutment and wing walls resulted in cracks in the walls and a long drawn out claim for compensation.
The other unusual bridge in the contract was the arch bridge, near the top of the hill on A8(M), which carries the Ballycraigy Road over the motorway. This first section of the M2 and the A8(M) were opened to traffic on 24 October 1966.
The slowing of the proposed rate of motorway construction as agreed between Prime Ministers, Sir Alec Douglas-Home and Terence ONeill led to a review of the order in which the sections of the M2 should be constructed. The original intention had been that it would be constructed progressively outwards from Sandyknowes but Ministers, and particularly the Prime Minister became concerned about congestion in the towns along the existing main road to the North - particularly Antrim and Ballymena.
On 15 December 1966 the Minister of Development - W K (William) Fitzsimmons announced that by-passes would be constructed in the order - Ballymena, Antrim, Randalstown and Dungannon. A contract had already been awarded for the Ballymena By-Pass and some preliminary work was being done on the foreshore section of the M2 between Greencastle and Whitla Street by direct labour by Works Division. Fitzsimmons added that the financial climate had altered a good deal since the motorway programme was announced early in 1964 and that future plans would depend on the rate at which money could be found. He said an attempt would be made to bring down the cost of rural motorways to a level more in keeping with the traffic volumes which they would carry and there would be a special study of the proposed Dungannon By-Pass.
These by-passes were in fact constructed in the order which the Minister had decided but not as quickly as he had envisaged.
In 1964 the Government announced that the Ministry of Development engineers would be responsible for selecting the line for the sections of motorway between Glengormley and Antrim and Antrim to Castledawson as well as the detail design of the Whitla Street to Greencastle, Antrim to Ballymena and Ballymena By-Pass sections. In order to accelerate progress however it had been decided that detail design work on the M2 and M22 Glengormley-Antrim-Castledawson sections should be done by the consulting engineers - Messrs Scott and Wilson, Kirkpatrick and Partners. For the design of the bridges the Northern Ireland consultants Messrs Kirk, McClure and Morton would work in co-operation with Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Messrs Gifford and Partners. The aerial survey work for preliminary and detail design work was done by BKS Survey Technical Services, (under W A Parkes) who moved from premises in Surrey to new offices near Coleraine.
The Ballymena By-Pass is about 4.5 miles long and runs from the A36 Ballymena-Larne road at the south end to the A26 Ballymena to Ballymoney Road, Teeshan, at the north end. At the south end a new dual carriageway all purpose road about one mile long connected the by-pass to the A26 Antrim Ballymena road - the main road from Belfast to the North Coast.
The large roundabout interchange at the southern end of the By-Pass allowed for the future construction of the proposed M2 between Ballymena and Antrim - the line of which lay about one mile east of the existing main road. The Teeshan junction at the Northern end allowed for the future extension of the M2 towards Coleraine - on the western side of the existing main road.
The road works were constructed by Thomas Lowe and Sons and the bridges were built by Farrans. The preliminary design had been done by Ministry of Development engineers. The detail design, contract preparation and supervision of construction were done by Works Division of the Ministry of Finance.
Considerable work had to be done on some minor roads which were being used as haul routes by lorries carrying material from quarries to the works. This section was opened to traffic on 25 April 1969.
The 6.5 mile portion of the M2 between Templepatrick and Dunsilly provided a by-pass for Antrim. At the eastern end traffic from the Belfast direction joined the motorway via the A6 and the minor road from Templepatrick known as Paradise Walk which had to be strengthened. Near the western end provision was made for the future section of M2 towards Ballymena while the motorway works were extended westwards under a separate contract as part of the M22. This Antrim By-Pass section was constructed by Graham.
It was opened to traffic on 26 February 1971 by then the Minister of Development A B D (Brian) Faulkner, who became Prime Minister the following month.
Northbound and westbound traffic from Belfast continued to use the existing A6 (or T7) single carriageway between Sandyknowes and Paradise Walk Templepatrick until September 1975.
The first 2.8 miles section of the M22 between Dunsilly and Ballygrooby (East of Randalstown) was constructed by Farrans and was opened to traffic on 16 August 1971.
The remainder of the M22 between Ballygrooby and Artresnahan (the Randalstown ByPass) was constructed by Graham and was opened to traffic on 30 January 1973. The attractive bridge over the River Main is seldom seen.
The M22 was designed by and the construction was supervised by Scott and Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners.
The next portion of the M2 to be constructed was the 2.5 miles between Whitla Street Belfast and Greencastle. This was the most costly and complex portion of the early motorway programme. There had been discussions between representatives of the Ministry of Commerce and the Belfast Corporation from the mid 1950s about the need for improved road capacity along or parallel to the Shore Road from the City Centre to Greencastle. The Corporation's original idea was that the A2 Shore Road should be widened. In some places this would have been easy but in others very difficult because of existing development.
In 1965 Russell proposed and it was agreed that the link between the Urban Motorway Ring and the M2 at Greencastle should be along the foreshore east of the railway line which ran between Belfast's Midland Station and Carrickfergus and Larne.
Russell worked up the preliminary plan for the scheme and suggested that the rock filling required for the reclamation of the foreshore should be obtained from the basalt overburden at the cement works limestone quarry at Magheramorne about 17 miles away. At that time the overburden was being dumped on the sea side of the works. He also suggested that it should be transported to the site by rail.
The scheme also involved the demolition and replacement of a large part of the marshalling yard and other services at the York Road Terminal belonging to the Northern Ireland Railway Company and extensive alterations to the Duncrue Street Workshops of Ulsterbus and Northern Ireland Carriers.
There were lengthy negotiations with the owners of the properties affected by the scheme, particularly the railway, bus and freight companies, the Shaftesbury Estates who owned the foreshore land and with the Associated Portland Cement Manufacturing Company.
The detail design was done by the engineers in the Roads Branch of the Ministry of Development.
The railway company employed the consultants Rendel Palmer and Tritton for the work at the rail terminal and Ulsterbus and Northern Ireland Carriers employed F A McAuslan and Partners and R Gillen for the work at Duncrue Street, which was carried out by H & J Martin.
There were about 30 Ministry contracts. The main motorway contract, including most of the bridges, was carried out by Sir Alfred McAlpine & Son (NI) Ltd, with some bridges by Cementation (NI) Ltd and P W Foundations.
The decision to use rail haulage meant that severe congestion on, and damage to, the streets in the Duncrue Street, Whitla Street and Shore Road areas were obviated. The Ministry of Development purchased 70 railway wagons of 30 ton capacity. They were of a side discharge type manually operated. This allowed for three trains of 20 wagons each with 10 spare wagons, to allow for repairs, without reducing train capacity. Each train was hauled by two steam locomotives. Railway sidings and two 500 ft long high loading platforms were constructed at the quarry at Magherarnorne to permit direct loading by the 30 ton dump trucks used at the quarry face. At the foreshore motorway site a 1½ mile long railway siding was constructed alongside the existing Northern Ireland Railways line. The side discharge wagons were emptied directly on to the foreshore and the material was spread by four D9 Caterpillar dozers. The Northern Ireland Railway Company was responsible for all rail operations and the other work, including drainage works, was carried out by direct labour by the Chief Engineer's Branch, Works Division Ministry of Finance.
Between November 1966 and May 1970 over 4 million tons of basalt were transported by train and placed on the new embankment which was about 3 feet above the highest recorded tide level. Records were kept of the rock surcharge, the displacement of the sleech and the settlement of markers in the embankment. The Ministry paid one old penny per ton to the cement company.
This was the last commercial use of steam locomotives in Northern Ireland and by May 1970 they were the last broad gauge steam locomotives in service anywhere in the United Kingdom - apart from those used for trips by steam enthusiasts.
Through the Fortwilliam interchange the motorway is of dual 4 lane construction with emergency hard shoulders on both sides of the carriageway. For the first time in Northern Ireland high mast lighting was provided along the entire length.
The work was completed in May 1973 and was opened to traffic on 22 May by Lord Windlesham who was a Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office.
A Spur was left at the Greencastle interchange for the future construction of the M5 towards Carrickfergus. The Belfast Corporation and Belfast Harbour Commissioners constructed at the same time a link from the Fortwilliam interchange to the rapidly developing harbour area. This link is now known as Dargan Road.
The width of the Foreshore section drew some ribald comments in the early years. One County Surveyor described it as being as broad as it was long! The overall width is about 184 feet. A visiting Labour Minister from a London constituency, Roland Moyle, was sharply critical of it as being extravagant. Margaret Thatcher, when Prime Minister, was also critical of the cost of Northern Ireland's motorway system. In 1998 the Foreshore section carried about 85,000 vehicles per day and is easily the most heavily trafficked portion of road in Northern Ireland.
The last portion of the M2 to be built was the 5.9 mile length from Sandyknowes near Glengormley to the existing M2 at Ballybentragh (Paradise Walk) near Templepatrick. The work included bridges at Sandyknowes to carry the motorway over the existing roundabout and an interchange on the A57 Templepatrick-Ballyclare Road. This section was designed and supervised by Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and the contract was carried out by Farrans. The two railway bridges, near the Templepatrick interchange, over the motorway and off slip were built by Graham under a separate contract.
Like all the other sections, with the exception of the Foreshore, this portion is of dual two lane construction but the land take is sufficient to allow for the addition of a third lane in each direction if future traffic growth warrants such a development.
This portion was opened to traffic on 4 September 1975 by Mrs Concannon, wife of Don Concannon who was the Minister of State responsible for the Department of the Environment (NI) at that time.
A junction with two off slips only has been provided at Crosskennan to provide quick access to the newly built Antrim Area Hospital - in 1993.
Since 1975 the other main changes on both Ml and M2 have been the substitution of steel guardrails for the median mound fence on the inner portions and changes to the kerbing and shoulders. Later lighting was added at some junctions and on some more heavily trafficked sections. Road markings, particularly on slip roads, and at roundabouts have been improved considerably in recent years.