The republic is now just 'two hours wide' with the completion of the first inter-urban M6 corridor between Galway and Dublin.
Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey marked the little bit of history in bright sunshine and freezing temperatures when he formally opened the last section of the 194km motorway in Ballinasloe, Co Galway.
A speed limit of 120km per hour should cut the journey from the M50 junction to Galway’s outer limits to about two hours, according to the National Roads Authority (NRA).
The final 56km section between Ballinasloe and Galway was completed four months ahead of schedule. However, it was opened unofficially for several weeks last month, when it provided the only direct road route from the east during the extensive flooding.
Mr Dempsey described it as a “major milestone”, while the NRA has billed it as a “historic event”.
Total cost was €1.1 billion for the entire route, with some €427 million paid by the State and the balance of over €700 million funded through a public-private partnership scheme.
Motorists will subsidise the PPP element, with a second M6 toll plaza located close to Cappatagle in east Galway in addition to the existing one near Enfield, Co Meath. A round trip through three toll plazas to and from Dublin airport could cost about €15 - the price of a return bus ticket for bus companies now offering a very competitive alternative, if fares are not increased.
Tolls are now standard on roads across Europe and the existing old road network between Galway and Dublin remained, Mr Dempsey said. “If you don’t want to pay the toll, don’t use the motorway,” he told journalists.
The lack of rest stops - a subject of some criticism - will be addressed, the NRA says. Mr Dempsey said he would be encouraging people to pull off into nearby towns and villages. “There is a programme and, as soon as we can afford it, we’ll put it in place in relation to rest stops,” he said.