BUSINESS leaders and Christmas shoppers will breathe a deep sigh of relief at a decision, by the NRA (National Roads Authority), to postpone planned safety woks on the Jack Lynch Tunnel.
The planned scheme will now commence in January.
Under an EU directive, the NRA and the tunnel’s operators, Cork City Council, were obliged to fireproof the route.
Initially, the statutory bodies announced plans to close the tunnel, at nights, from October to next March to complete a planned €5 million project.
However, there had been consternation within the hard-pressed business community amid claims the planned works would affect shopping in the run up to, and during, the busiest period of the year.
Cork Business Association (CBA) has been lobbying Cork City Hall officials who, in turn, conducted a series of discussions with the NRA.
CBA chief executive Donal Healy said, as a result of the talks, the NRA had agreed to postpone the project.
"We pointed out to them the two-month lead-up to Christmas and the January sales accounted for 25% of all sales recorded during the year. We asked that the contract be postponed until next January. If they had gone ahead and started the closure in October, it had the potential to have a tsunami affect on business and employment," he claimed.
The NRA had planned to close the tunnel for 11 hours each weekday night between 8pm and 7am.
Mr Healy said that if the closures had gone ahead from October, it would have driven late night shoppers away from Mahon Point in particular, but would also have had a negative impact on the shopping centres in Douglas and Wilton.
"We had a number of meetings with Cork City Council officials who discussed the situation with the NRA. I have to say we found the council officials very helpful and we would like to thank them for that and we’d like to also thank the NRA," Mr Healy said.
The city council now plans to close the tunnel after January 9.
Daily closures will be from 9.30pm to 7am on every day of the week, apart from Friday nights, for a six-month period.
A number of serious fires in tunnels in Europe led to the introduction of the EU 2004/54 directive which stated that all major tunnels had to be fire-proofed.
As the Jack Lynch Tunnel had been opened in May 1999, it had not been covered by the new regulations. The Dublin Port Tunnel does already comply.
The NRA, it emerged, could have undertaken the job much quicker if it closed the tunnel completely but such a decision would have caused traffic havoc in the heart of the city. More than 65,000 vehicles pass through the tunnel on an average weekday.
The work, meanwhile, will erect special flame-retardant cladding to protect the tunnel structure in the event of a serious fire.