THE CONTROVERSIAL M3 motorway in Co Meath, which has been the subject of several years of protests, is now almost 90 per cent complete, the National Roads Authority (NRA) has said.
At almost 60km of main motorway and a further 40km of link roads and interchanges, the it is one of the longest motorways under construction in Europe.
The M3 is not scheduled to open until July 2010. Work could still finish ahead of this scheduled date, but not before mid-spring next year, the NRA said.
Beginning at Clonee, north of the Dublin-Meath border, it runs to Kells where it switches to a motorway-grade dual carriageway for the last 10km to the Cavan border. It will have two toll booths, charging €1.40 for cars. Dunshaughlin, Navan and Kells are bypassed along the route.
Controversially, the route runs just over 2km from the Hill of Tara, and adjacent to the Lismullin national monument and the hill fort of Rath Lugh.
Protesters have occupied these latter two sites, blocking the road’s construction at various times in recent years, most memorably in March last year when conservationist Lisa Feeney, known as “Squeak” shut herself inside a chamber at the bottom of a 33-foot tunnel at Rath Lugh for 60 hours.
No protesters are currently blocking or picketing any part of the motorway, and Vincent Salafia of Tarawatch said that such action is unlikely to recur. “The frontline part of the campaign is pretty much over. There are people still protesting in the area, but not on the front line of the road. At this stage any protest on the road would be a largely symbolic gesture, but that doesn’t mean the campaign is over.”
Recent changes to the criminal trespass laws had made such protests more difficult, Mr Salafia said, but he said Tarawatch was continuing to campaign against the road and hoped it might still be moved, even after its construction.
Moving the road would be a possibility particularly if the Hill of Tara received Unesco World Heritage designation, Mr Salafia said. Tarawatch was also continuing to bring complaints against the NRA to EU bodies in relation to the destruction of ancient archaeology and heritage.
Mr Salafia has criticised the cost to the taxpayer of the motorway. He said this will amount to €727.4 million over the life of the toll contract with Eurolink, which ends in 2052.
However, NRA spokesman Seán O’Neill said Mr Salafia’s claims were a distortion of the facts. The road would cost about €720 million if Eurolink had not been involved and the cost was borne entirely by the State. “In fact only €250 million is being paid up front; the rest of the cost is being borne by the contractor . . . Distorting the figures doesn’t benefit the public, what benefits the public is the construction of a new, safe, value for money motorway.”