Brexit 'bad news' for £165m York Street Interchange project
The Brexit vote will have implications for the York Street Interchange project in Belfast, according to Northern Ireland's infrastructure minister.
The £165m scheme was designed to ease congestion at the junctions of the M1, M2 and M3 but has been put on hold.
Chris Hazzard said uncertainty over EU funding has put the project at risk
However, the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) said projects signed until the point the UK leaves the EU, would be fully funded by the Treasury.
The part of York Street concerned is considered Northern Ireland's busiest road junction, with more than 100,000 vehicles passing through it daily.
The underpass and bridge project is aimed at easing congestion where the three roads intersect.
Mr Hazzard told the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme: "Brexit spells bad news, not just for this project, but for my department as a whole.
York Street 'handbrake'
The York Street Interchange project could lead to 288 miles of uninterrupted road from County Antrim to County Cork.
The traffic lights at the interchange are the only place where drivers are forced to stop between Randalstown and Cork City. Read more here.
"I'm dealing with, maybe, half a century of an infrastructure deficit west of the Bann - the A5 and the A6 are absolutely crucial projects.
"Are people suggesting I take money away from the A6 and we allow the build up around Dungiven every morning, just to free up the building of the interchange?
"I have to do what's best for the transport system as a whole. York Street is a priority for me, but I have assessed the funding that is now available to me in the context of what happened earlier this summer."
Seamus Leheny from the Freight Transport Association said the delay represents "bad news for transport operators and the economy".
"This connects all the major parts of the transport network for Northern Ireland," he said.
"It connects our ports, our major motorways and obviously Belfast city. Everyone, no matter if they're based in Belfast or Omagh, they consistently say the M1, M2, M3 is the choke point - that is where they suffer the most congestion. "
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has described the project as "indispensable".
A DUP spokesperson said: "The York Street Interchange is one of the key transport priorities for Northern Ireland. We are committed to seeing it brought forward as soon as possible."
UUP MLA, Jenny Palmer, said the project was "vital" to the economic welfare of Northern Ireland.
Stormont's Department of Infrastructure had been hoping to bid for funding for the York Street upgrade under a programme known as Connecting Europe Facility.
The NIO said the chancellor's commitment applied to "projects signed until the point the UK leaves the EU".
It said that also included "payments of any awards won by UK organisations who bid directly to the EU for competitive funding, even when specific projects continue beyond the UK's departure from the EU".
In a statement, the Department for Infrastructure said it had "a range of capital priorities" including four executive flagship projects.
"Progress on these will be determined by the scale of resources available (to the minister) from the forthcoming budget process," it added.
"In the case of York Street, while it is a project that could have attracted up to 40% EU funding, there would still be a 60% gap to make up."
The department said the next call for major projects was anticipated for early 2018.
In December 2015, Mr Hazzard's predecessor, the DUP's Michelle McIlveen, said the department was fully committed to the interchange going ahead.