CONSTANT HEAVY traffic on Slane bridge appears to have been why it partially collapsed last month, an oral hearing by An Bord Pleanála into a proposed bypass of Slane village heard yesterday.
At the time, Meath County Council said the collapse of a stone wall on the western facade of the bridge was due to icy weather.
However, yesterday Seamus Mac Gearailt of Roughan O’Donovan engineers, which oversaw the selection of the bypass route on behalf of the council, said “it appears to have been due to heavy traffic loading over years”.
The council is seeking permission from the planning board to build a 3.5km dual-carriageway at a cost of €46 million to the east of the village. The route will take it some 500m from the buffer zone to Brú na Bóinne, a Unesco world heritage site that includes Newgrange, Knowth and Dowth.
Mr Mac Gearailt also told the hearing, chaired by planning inspector Michael Walsh, that it was not just Slane bridge that posed risks to traffic but all of the road layout through the village.
The N2 has steep hills on both approaches to Slane bridge and it also intersects with the main Drogheda to Navan road in the middle of the village.
Mr Mac Gearailt said Slane had the “longest and most severe descent on any national primary route”.
As a result, “vehicles have considerable difficulty in braking safely – overheating can lead to brake failure at a critical point”, he told the hearing.
Between 1996 and last year there were 40 incidents in Slane, of which 35 per cent involved trucks.
The steep gradient is the key factor, the hearing heard.
At the moment, some 17,700 vehicles pass through the village each day; after the bypass, the number of vehicles will drop by a third. The number crossing Slane bridge daily will reduce by 7,700.
Mr Walsh said it was not proposed to build a bypass to the west of Slane, although it had been desirable to “tease out” what a route to the west would look like and this took place last year.
At the start of the hearing it was put to Mr Walsh that the environmental impact statement submitted by the council could be deficient and inadequate.
Mr Walsh said the board “has not decided yet whether it is adequate or not. I haven’t either”.
He was speaking after Colm Mac hEochaidh SC, for former attorney general John Rogers, who lives in the area, said the recommendation by the board to the council to retain an expert on the impact of the scheme on Brú na Bóinne, including Newgrange, implied that the environmental impact statement submitted needed “a fix”.
He said it appeared the statement could be deficient “in that it does not address the impact on the world heritage site”, and if that were the situation then An Bord Pleanála had no jurisdiction to hold the oral hearing.
He put it to Mr Walsh that the first thing the board must do is decide on whether it had a lawful environmental impact statement.
The hearing also heard that the flight paths of bats in the Boyne valley were taken into consideration in selecting the height of the bridge that would carry the road across the Boyne.
It was decided that a three-span, steel-concrete composite 200m bridge that was 21m above the valley floor would be the preferred design.
Mr Mac Gearailt said the bridge design “respects its surroundings” and “we recognise it is an intrusion but leaves no stone unturned in trying to blend into its environment”.