The big dig

Big digWork on Belfast’s Big Dig – a series of key infrastructure projects that will transform the heart of the city – will cost neary a billion pounds, the Belfast Telegraph revealed in May 2004.The unprecedented development in Northern Ireland’s capital city over the next five years includes the £300m revamp of Victoria Square and £200m of further investment in Laganside and Cathedral Quarter.

This latest stage in the decades-old effort to revitalise Belfast also includes two less glamorous but vital projects: the £75m rebuild of Westlink and the £100m sewer replacement.

Other advanced plans include the £100m first phase of Titanic Quarter and a £9m Opera House extension.

The various projects are similar to a smaller version of the so-called Big Dig in Boston, Massachusetts – a vast engineering project that is nearing completion after almost 15 years of work costing £8bn.

There are parallels between Belfast and New England schemes – Boston, eight miles of freeway has been built underground to improve traffic flows in the city and reconnect the city’s waterfront to its central district. In Belfast, the main arterial route – the Westlink – is to be widened, while the waterfront will be brought closer to city centre shoppers as a result of Victoria Square and expansion at Laganside.

The river frontage will be further enhanced by the development at Titanic Quarter.

Key construction projects to transform the city will cost almost £1bn and represent a massive boon to Northern Ireland’s construction industry. Works are being coordinated in conjunction with Belfast City council in a bid to minimize disruption during this extensive phase of redevelopment. A spokesman for the City Council said

“ We are talking to all the relevant agencies and businesses in a bid to co-ordinate work schedules, to minimize disruption for citizens and visitors.”

John Reid, of Robinson McILwaine architects, who won several awards for the new Bar Library, welcomed the opportunities.

“We should seize any chance to raise architectural design quality, so that we can continue the legacy of fine buildings in Belfast stretching back more than 100 years.”

Big dig