A NEW highway tunnel under the river Shannon, opened by the Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday, is being projected as catalyst for the delivery of major economic, environmental and commercial benefits to the mid-west and the wider Atlantic Corridor stretching from Kerry to Donegal.
Opening the €660 million tunnel four miles west of Limerick, Mr Cowen said it represented one of the most complex pieces of engineering ever completed in this country and would give economic activity and jobs a badly needed stimulus.
The new tunnel is more than 900 metres in length of which 675 metres is under the river. Over coming days it will ease travel for thousands going to the Galway races, cutting 20 minutes off journey times.
The tunnel’s four-lane roadway has the capacity to take 40,000 vehicles a day. Traffic of up to 17,000 vehicles a day is the initial estimate for coming months. DirectRoute, which owns and the runs the tunnel says traffic will grow to 27,000 vehicles a day, reducing traffic through the city by up to 20,000 vehicles a day. The tunnel is only 21km from Shannon and the airport expects it will help encourage more business from the south and south-west.
Cars will pay a €1.80 toll, buses €3.20, and large lorries €5.70.
Mr Cowan said the tunnel represented a historic crossing under the Shannon.
He said: “It is a key element in our national road infrastructure and is vitally important to the people of the mid-west. As the world economy improves, it is important to remember all the positive things happening in our country. More than €1.4 billion will be spent this year on our national, regional and local road infrastructure. This level of investment provides a much needed fiscal stimulus around the country and also helps maintain thousands of jobs. The delivery of these vital routes has transformed our national road network beyond all recognition. This investment will make us more competitive and help support jobs and economic growth as the global economy recovers.”
The tunnel, he said primarily signified an improvement in the quality of people’s lives.
“The reducing in traffic through the city will return the streets and the city to its residents and to the business community as well.
“I have every confidence that this will be a major contributor to a resurgence of our hopes and ambitions for the area,” he said.
The tunnel connects the southern side of the Shannon near the cement factory in Mungret to the northern riverside near the Radisson Hotel on the Ennis Road.
The then transport minister Martin Cullen turned the first sod on October 26, 2006.
The road network on either side of the tunnel will include 11 new access bridges, six underpasses and four interchanges.
The tunnel consists of five precast concrete tubes which were made by Austrian specialists, Strabag.
To lay the tunnel foundations 800,000 tonnes of silt had to be dredged from the river and six million tons of rock placed along the line of the tunnel to stabilise the soft river bed.
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