A head of steam has built up against the country’s first large “type-three” single carriageway between Dingle and Tralee in Co Kerry.
A decision on the road will be made at the end of June. An oral hearing convened by An Bord Pleanála in Dingle ran for three days last week.
Most of the landowners, who were initially the only ones to voice opposition, have settled with the local council. However, environmentalists, tourist concerns, cyclists, farriers, and residents have come out against the road, to the astonishment of Kerry County Council, which is managing the NRA-backed project.
Among the concerns is speculation that the road, three times the size of what is there already, may be part of a plan to bring in oil from the recently discovered Dunquin field off the peninsula. Others argue that the straightened road will cut through rare geology and destroy the “personality” of the peninsula.
Just a decade ago, petitions were brought to the European Parliament, while a bus was hired during a train strike to bring residents to protest outside the Dáil over the state of the N86, with 2,000 signatures gathered.
Outlining its case last week, the council said the upgrade and widening of the 18th-century road from 5.5m to 16m and, in some cases, 28m, was the minimum necessary for safety of traffic, including cyclists.
The road would be a great opportunity for the peninsula to develop cycling and walking tourism, it said.
The proposed 28km road upgrade from Dingle to Camp in two sections, with cycle paths separated from the carriageways, would be carried out in stages at an estimated cost of €65m.
Senior council engineer Paul Stack submitted that one of the area’s major difficulties was “peripherality”, and said and villages along the route, as well as Dingle town, would benefit from better access.
The NRA, he said, was focusing on national secondary routes “and providing access to areas of the country that have high amenity and tourist value”.
However, some opponents argue peripherality is “not a hindrance but a main attraction”.
Sarah Dolan, on behalf of a group called Meitheal Fhorbairt Inbhuanaithe Chorca Dhuibhne, or sustainable development, said the project’s scale, “three times the size of the current road”, would seriously injure a highly sensitive landscape. She said the hedgerows and stone walls which gave “a unique sense of place” would be lost and the dangers of the existing road had been overstated.
Visitors did not search for straight roads but valued “what was quirky”, Ms Dolan said, questioning the wisdom of the scheme which would alter forever some of the most treasured aspects of the peninsula.
The hearing was also told that the notorious hairpin bends at Farranacarraige were “not just impediments on the way” but were rare geomorphological features.
Geologist Bernard Goggin said these had been laid down during deglaciation and were of national importance.
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