The National Roads Authority is to spend almost €1.7 billion this year in a move which will see construction start on the final projects of the Government's inter-urban motorway programme. Tim O'Brien reports.
Just four projects remain to be started in the programme which aims to link the regional cities of Galway, Limerick, Cork and Waterford with Dublin by high quality roads by 2010.
The four projects concerned are :
• the Carlow to Knocktopher scheme on the N9;
• the Kilcullen to Carlow scheme also on the N9;
• two schemes on the N7, Casteltown to Nenagh and rebuilding the junction at Newlands Cross.
This year will see the completion of just three major schemes on the inter-urban routes, the lowest number in recent years. The schemes are:
• the Kilbeggan to Athlone dual carriageway on the N6 which is to open in May;
• the Cashel to Mitchelstown dual carriageway on the N8 which is due to open in the autumn;
• the Carlow bypass which is also due to open in the autumn.
In addition to those starting and those being completed this year, work is to continue into 2009 on some seven schemes on the major inter-urban routes. These are: Leixlip to the M50 junction on the N4 to be completed in 2009; Athlone to Ballinasloe on the N6 in 2009; Ballinasloe to Galway in 2010; Nenagh to Limerick on the N7 in 2009; Culahill to Cashel on the N8 in 2009; and Portlaoise to Cullahill/Castletown on the M8/M9 by 2010.
But the authority said yesterday that while priority was being placed on completing the inter-urban routes, 2008 would also see the start of schemes linking Oranmore to Gort, and Gort to the Cusheen bypass. This route will provide an inter-urban motorway between Limerick and Galway on the N18, the first phase of the Atlantic Corridor.
The authority will also start work on the Tullamore bypass on the N52 in Co Offaly.
The NRA has, however, been unsuccessful in convincing the Government that it should be given another €500 million a year to begin further schemes.
While a number of schemes outside the major inter-urban routes are already under way, such as the M3 motorway in Co Meath, the upgrade of the M50, the Limerick tunnel and the Navan relief road, NRA chairman Peter Malone said the authority was ready to ramp up investment even further if the money was forthcoming.
But he said a section of the N11 between the Rathnew bypass and Arklow which had seen record numbers of deaths in recent years would be progressed this year, in any event, with the start of a tendering process. Mr Malone also pointed out that by this autumn the upgrade of the M50 would be complete from the M1/M50 junction to Ballymount.
Commenting on the situation Mr Malone said the construction industry would be able to manage the extra contracts involved with the extra €500 million, as it had many more projects lined up for the post-2010 period. But he said 2010 would see enormous benefits for regional tourism with many of the major tourist destinations becoming only a few hours from Dublin by car.
He added that the new motorways and bypasses were "giving towns and villages back to the people" by removing traffic congestion from their main streets.
Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey said that within three years the Republic would have a network "criss-crossing the country which would connect communities" and which would be seven times safer than the roads they replace.
He also said the opening of the new roads would facilitate greater competitiveness, adding that the improvements for business were visible: "Business can do business in a more effective way," he commented.
The Irish Times