The massive tunnel highway being built under the Shannon near Limerick city is ahead of schedule and likely to be open for traffic by September 2010.
It will cut travelling times for thousands of commuters every day - connecting all the main routes along the western corridor between the west, the south and the south west. It will bypass Limerick city.
The tunnel is a key element of Limerick’s new Southern Ring Road, a 9.7km four-lane highway. The tunnel will run for 900m, of which 675m will be under the Shannon.
The tunnel connects the southern side of the Shannon near the cement factory in Mungret, to the northern riverside near the Radisson Hotel on the Ennis Road.
The then transport minister Martin Cullen TD turned the first sod on the tunnel site on October 26, 2006.
Mayor of Limerick Cllr Kevin Kiely, following a visit to the tunnel site, said - "Such is the rate of progress being made, there is a good chance the tunnel will be open ahead of schedule as early as September 2010."
The construction of the tunnel is one of the biggest engineering projects of its kind ever undertaken in Ireland. The road network on either side of the tunnel will include the provision of 11 new access bridges, six underpasses and four interchanges.
The tunnel itself consists of five precast concrete tubes which were made by Austrian specialists, Strabag. They were floated out on to the river and lowered onto foundations which were set on the river bed.
To lay the tunnel foundations, 800,000 tonnes of silt had to be dredged from the river and six million tons of rock placed along the line of the tunnel to stabilise the soft river bed. This work was completed last July and the road builders, Direct Route, have confirmed that mechanical and electrical contractors have been engaged now to start fitting out the tunnel. The work is scheduled to commence immediately.
When open, the tunnel road will be tolled at rates equivalent to other toll routes - with a car rate of around €1.90 and lorries at approximately €4.50.
As well as cutting travel times between the south and south-west to the west and north-west, it is also expected to boost business in the mid-west and help attract more travel business to Shannon.
A spokesman for the National Roads Authority said - "This project is a catalyst for Limerick city and county, Shannon airport and Co Clare - to continue their collective regional growth."