Answer to the M20 or North Ring question is build both

The focus has been on the development of the M20 motorway, between Cork and Limerick, of late.

There was uproar when it was shelved, in 2011, due to the national finances.

There has been political pressure to have it reinstated in the capital investment plan.

Connections between cities do increase trade and economic development. A recent report produced for both Cork and Limerick chambers of commerce shows that 5,400 jobs could be created by the opportunities that the motorway provides. This would be welcome, as would the reduction in car accidents.

Once a city’s infrastructure is working, you can then look at extending networks beyond the city boundaries.

Cork is functioning like a stroke victim. One side has severely restricted circulation, leading to dysfunction and disadvantage, while the other side is functioning normally. If both sides functioned equally well, growth and prosperity would follow.

The isolation of the north side of Cork city has led to a dearth of investment, high unemployment, and disadvantage.

In 2014, it would often take 45 minutes to cross the five miles to Blackpool, through the middle of the city via the Kinsale Road Roundabout, to our quantity-surveying office in Blackpool.

The routes through the Jack Lynch tunnel, or along the warren of back roads from the Anglers Rest, in Ballincollig, were no better.

All routes took the same amount of time. If you multiply this by the amount of traffic passing to and from the north side every day, you will see how much productivity is wasted.

The journey took its toll on my health and focus. It wasn’t just the lost time, but lost productivity. I had left so much mental energy on the road, nudging through slow-moving traffic.

Since then, we’ve moved to a convenient location, off the South Link.

Now, if a shiny, new M20 motorway is constructed, it will terminate at the R635, the current North Cork Ring Road, at Blackpool, through built-up Mayfield.

The half-hour in time savings made on the journey will be lost at this last bottle neck. This will exacerbate existing congestion at this point and won’t add to the productivity of the city. The massive investment in the new road would not realise its full potential.

Building a new M20 motorway will cost between €750m and €1.25bn. This equates to between €140,000 and €231,000 per new job created.

The cost of an outer-ring road would be €200m and it would give far higher percentage economic return than the proposed M20 motorway.

It would open up vast areas of the north side for development, increase productivity of people and companies, and add to the net worth of the city and its inhabitants.

The undeveloped area inside the proposed route for the north ring road is about 12,000 acres. That would conservatively accommodate 70,000 houses and all associated schools, retail, industrial and recreational areas.

This piece of infrastructure could facilitate 50,000 jobs. This investment would then equate to €4,000 per job.

Add to this the productivity increases, decreased travel time, higher tax returns, increased property values, and overall increase in economic activity and there is a very strong economic case for a new ring road that will pay for itself within a very short space of time.

At a time when Dublin is becoming unsustainably expensive, yet again, viable secondary options are needed to take the pressure off it, rebalance the economy, and make it more competitive.

The projected population increases and current accommodation crisis need our policy-makers to think big. Facilitating the necessary development with appropriate infrastructure is the first place to start. Nothing can happen without this.

The M20 motorway, on its own, will have limited benefits, in that it will just connect two adjacent cities and will run into circulation problems at the final stage. Furthermore, it won’t facilitate development or expansion of either city.

As quantity surveyors, we always provide a comparative analysis to see which is the option that provides the best value for our clients.

In this case, we believe the superior option would be to build both pieces of infrastructure at the same time. This would have the synchronistic effect of opening up the north of the city and connecting the southern region.

It would secure Cork’s future for generations to come and help to rebalance the whole economy.

Sometimes, the answer is not either/or, it’s both.

Michael McCarthy is a chartered quantity surveyor with MMC quantity surveyors


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